Friday, July 15, 2011
Perhaps Not Without Snap and Go
"On sped the light chestnut, with the little officer bending almost to the saddle-bow"
On this date 120 years ago - July 15, 1891 - Howard Pyle shipped the picture seen here to F. B. Schell, head of the art department at Harper & Brothers. “I think myself that it is perhaps not without snap and go,” Pyle remarked in a letter of the same day.
He had only started painting it some two weeks earlier. “I suppose I had better first of all, do the Battle of Monmouth illustration for the Weekly, had I not?” he asked Schell on June 30. “And will you kindly tell me if Mr. Davis especially prefers it in ink or whether he would be as well satisfied if I made it in wash? I think I would prefer doing it in wash although I will do the best I can in any medium that you and Mr. Davis may prefer.”
“Mr. Davis” was Richard Harding Davis, writer, bon vivant, and editor of Harper’s Weekly - who Pyle admired for “putting lots of ‘blood’ and ‘grit’ into the paper”. Evidently, Davis and Schell preferred a pen and ink illustration (which would be much less expensive to reproduce than a wood-engraving), but, as Pyle explained on July 15, “I found upon consideration and trial that the subject did not admit of it and so had to use the other medium.” The “other medium” in this case was black and white oil, which often fell under Pyle’s broad term “wash”.
Pyle also apologized for having “so long delayed doing the work” since Davis had handed him the manuscript on or about June 16. But the details had taken a few weeks to hammer out and in the meantime Pyle’s studio was being altered and he had had to vacate it temporarily. “Then, beside,” he added, “I got interested in the subject and spent more time upon it than, perhaps, I should have done.”
The picture illustrated “The Two Cornets of Monmouth” by A. E. Watrous in Harper's Weekly for September 12, 1891.
A good reproduction of the original painting can be seen in Alice A. Carter’s book on Pyle students Violet Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Jessie Willcox Smith, titled The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love.