Wednesday, April 6, 2011

“The greater you are, the more folks envy you”


“I had enemies in my line” by Howard Pyle (1898)

More wonderful grouping from a “lost” Howard Pyle - well, “lost” inasmuch as the original, probably full-color oil painting has yet to surface.

“I had enemies in my line” illustrated “Where the Laborers Are Few,” one of Margaret Deland’s Old Chester Tales in Harper’s Monthly for October 1898. When published in book form, the picture was retitled, “‘The greater you are,’ said the acrobat, ‘The more folks envy you.’”

It takes a moment to register what’s going on and where - an accident in a circus - but then it all falls into place. And those little touches: the tiny umbrella poking up from the heaving crowd, the black top hat against the white dress, the slight curve of buttons on the ringmaster’s coat, the pole running up the left side of the picture.... I think Howard Pyle gives Edgar Degas a run for his money here. As William A. Coffin aptly wrote some six years before this was painted:
Above all, Mr. Pyle excels in composition, and there are very few among the many drawings from his hand that are not remarkable for effective arrangement. Ingenious grouping, dramatic concentration of interest on the principal figures, and clever management of light and shade to give his compositions breadth and unity of effect, are the qualities that most distinguish his work. It is needless to say that they are among the most essential ones in picture-making, and experience has taught him how to make the most of them to secure good results in reproduction, that ever important consideration to the illustrator.

1 comment:

kev ferrara said...

This one is also very interesting compositionally, the intricate groups, the sense that we are witnessing a chaotic event that we must work to untangle -- how Pyle thinks is always fascinating.

I do wish there was more a sense that the scene was taking place in a tent. It seems a bit like a beach scene. Nor am I quite getting the theatricality of the circus, the strange wonder and pageantry of it.

I do love the sense that the crowd is slightly turning into a restless mob, though.