Friday, April 30, 2010

April 30, 1893

"Illustration is such a dangerous thing. It is so apt to set the readers ideas into a fixed and hardened shape instead of allowing them to flow into and through the channel of words."
Howard Pyle to Mrs. Charles Fairchild, April 30, 1893

Monday, April 26, 2010

Willa Cather to Howard Pyle, April 26, 1906

"Will Mr. Howard Pyle accept through me the love and of seven big and little children to whom he taught the beauty of language and of line, and to whom, in a desert place, he sent the precious message of Romance."
Willa Cather to Howard Pyle, April 26, 1906, in a presentation copy of her book The Troll Garden

Friday, April 23, 2010

April 23, 1907

"I am in great danger of grinding out conventional magazine illustrations for conventional magazine stories. I feel myself now to be at the height of my powers, and in the next ten or twelve years I should look to do the best work of my life. I do not think that it is right for me to spend so great a part of my time in manufacturing drawings for magazine stories which I cannot regard as having any really solid or permanent literary value. Mr. [James Branch] Cabell’s stories, for instance, are very clever, and far above the average of magazine literature, but they are neither exactly true to history nor exactly fanciful, and, whilst I have made the very best illustrations for them which I am capable of making, I feel that they are not true to medieval life, and that they lack a really permanent value such as I should now endeavor to present to the world."
Howard Pyle to Thomas Bucklin Wells (assistant editor at Harper's Monthly Magazine), April 23, 1907

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Certain Howard Pyle Fan

This blog is all about Howard Pyle. But the other important artist in my life - really, the most important artist and the most important man in my life - has been and forever will be my father, John Schoenherr. He was a Pyle fan since childhood and he introduced me to Pyle's work when I was a boy.

I've written something about him here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Queen Esther, 1902

Readers of Scribner's Magazine for April 1902 must have been startled on seeing "Queen Esther inciting the Indians to Attack the Settlers at Wyoming." It's certainly one of Howard Pyle's spookier images.

It illustrates Alfred Mathews' article "A Story of Three States" and the original oil was exhibited in 1903 and '04, then went missing. I gather its palette is similar to that of its companion piece, "The Connecticut Settlers entering the Western Reserve" (now at the Brandywine River Museum): black, white, and red oils loosely painted over an umber imprimatura. An engraver touched up the halftone plate - particularly in the foreground, skirt, headdresses - making the reproduction surprisingly crisp. And the red is much more fiery than it is here (I can't figure out why my scans "dull down" when I save them for the web).

The "Wyoming" in the title doesn't refer to the state, but to the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania, site of a Revolutionary War battle (and massacre) in the Summer of 1778. A note on the plate states, "The figure to the right is [Joseph] Brant, and the white man is [Colonel John] Butler." Pyle probably worked from this image of Brant.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools from Howard Pyle, Part 4

I’m overwhelmed by fools - Howard Pyle’s fools, I mean: he just drew and painted too many to show all at once. But here’s one more, in yet another medium and style. It’s from “The Castle of Content” by James Branch Cabell (Harper’s Monthly Magazine, August 1903). It was titled “He thought of his love” in the magazine, but was exhibited as “Idleness.“ I saw the original oil a few years ago and noticed that it had been unscrupulously cut down (to fit a frame, probably!) and that the colors of the fool’s tights were reversed. I gather that Pyle, in his haste to finish, forgot which leg was green and which one was red and that the printer corrected his mistake.

April Fools from Howard Pyle, Part 3

This fool - a detail from the illustrated verse “Venturesome Boldness” (Harper’s Young People, August 26, 1884) - has the distinction of being one of Howard Pyle’s earliest known “fool” pictures and also one of his earliest known self-portraits. Yes, that him on the right. The same character appeared two months before in “Serious Advice” in Harper’s Young People for June 24, 1884, (but of that the less said the better) and in various illustrations after, including the frontispiece of Pepper and Salt.

April Fools from Howard Pyle, Part 2

This fool - or jester, if you will - is from Erik Bogh’s “The Pilgrimage of Truth” (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, December 1900). Its title in the magazine was “Truth in the Fool’s Lodge,” but it was also exhibited as “Truth is Received by the Jester” and “Truth in House of the the Fool.”

Howard Pyle made this during the summer of 1900, while he was living, working, and teaching at Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania. In fact, he made at least three versions of this scene (I think I’ve only seen this one, so I don't know how the others differ) as he struggled to find a medium which could be reproduced successfully. “I have had great difficulty with the Christmas work I am doing for Harpers,” he grumbled on August 3th. “It will have to be redrawn and will occupy me I think almost the entire month to finish the work.” And on September 7th he was still cranky: “The Christmas pictures, which were delaying me, took so much longer for me to do than I had expected that I am thrown back nearly a month in my work.”

April Fools from Howard Pyle, Part 1

Well, this fool is not from April per se, but from "The Quaker Lady" by S. Weir Mitchell (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, November 1890). Pyle painted the original in wash (ink, methinks) and Albert M. Lindsay engraved it on wood - about 1.25 x 1.25 inches.

April 1, 1901: Woodrow Wilson to Howard Pyle

"Tory Refugees on their way to Canada" by Howard Pyle (1901)

Although the second collaboration of Howard Pyle and Woodrow Wilson was not as “intense” as the first (on “George Washington” in 1895-96), “Colonies and Nation” still generated a fair amount of correspondence. “It seems extremely pleasant to be writing to you again in collaboration of such interesting work,” Pyle wrote in the fall of 1900. “It was exceedingly pleasant to see your name on an envelope again,” concurred Wilson, and over the next six months at least a dozen letters (and certainly more than that, though they have yet to resurface) travelled between Wilmington and Princeton as the two hammered out what pictures would best suit the text. (Apparently, too, Wilson himself visited Pyle at his studio on the morning of December 7, 1900.)

“I remember in our work upon the History of the Life of Washington you specified your subjects and I upon my part after carefully reading the manuscript was allowed to give my ideas concerning them from the standpoint of an illustrator,” Pyle had reminded Wilson, not long after beginning his illustrations. That spring, while planning the last handful of pictures, Pyle asked if he could “amend” Wilson's list of subjects (which also hasn't yet surfaced) and paint “Washington refusing the offer to make him King” and a scene from Shays’ Rebellion as they “typify that period of Anarchy following the Revolutionary War so critical, apparently, to the life of the country.” Pyle also thought a depiction of Washington’s Inauguration would be appropriate. Here is Wilson’s answer, which shows the level of ease that had developed between the artist and writer:


Princeton, New Jersey,

1 April, 1901.

My dear Mr. Pyle,

I literally have not had ten minutes to consider your letter of March twenty-eighth until this morning. I hope that you will pardon the delay.

I like two of the subjects you suggest very much indeed, but not the first. I should think it a little dangerous, historically, to make a scene out of Washington’s refusal to be made dictator. It was really an incident of correspondence. I should fear that, in making a picture of it, we should be in danger of putting in too large an imaginative element.

I had rather set my heart on having you do a group of emigrating loyalists in the northern forests, a subject that appeals greatly to the imagination; or one of your delightful character sketches of a rural group (this time on the western frontier) debating Jay's treaty.

The scene from Shays' rebellion and the inauguration of Washington I entirely like.

In haste,

With warm regard,

Sincerely Yours,

Woodrow Wilson


In the end, Pyle did not paint Washington refusing to be made king, nor a scene from Shays’ Rebellion (though he had, indeed, depicted these two subjects in the 1880s), and his picture of the inauguration only appeared when Wilson’s papers were collected in book form. But his “Tory Refugees on their way to Canada” (above) and “A Political Discussion” appeared in Harper’s Monthly Magazine for December 1901.

And here is Wilson's original letter...