Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mrs. Pyle and the Yacht Alicia

Some odd Pyle trivia now. On April 19, 1890, in Wilmington, Delaware...
The steel steam yacht Alicia was launched from the Harlin [sic] & Hollingsworth Company’s ship yards at noon to-day. She is being built for H. M. Flagler, of New York, and will be finished during the summer. The wife of Howard Pyle, the artist, christened the new boat. She is 180 feet long, and will be finished in rich and luxurious style. (Chicago Daily Tribune, April 20, 1890)
More pictures and information can be found here. In 1898 she (the yacht, not Mrs. Pyle) was purchased by the U.S. Navy and became the USS Hornet.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Howard Pyle’s Civil War: “Malvern Hill”

“Malvern Hill” by Howard Pyle (1896)

A tailpiece by Howard Pyle for his Civil War story, “The Romance of an Ambrotype,” printed in Harper’s Monthly for December 1896. The halftone plate was retouched by an engraver and is quite small - just 4.8 x 1.2 inches. The original painting is in black, white, and red oil on illustration board, but has not yet come to light. Although it is untitled in the magazine, Pyle called it “Malvern Hill” when he exhibited it a few months later. It depicts a scene from the 1862 Virginia battle of the same name, and illustrates the following passage:
...The Sixth Regiment had been held in reserve, and was only marched down the slope to meet the last charge, made about six o'clock. As Curlett [the hero of the story] trotted at the head of his company down the hill he rather sensed than saw how everywhere was the scattered debris of battle, now so familiar to him - dead men, wounded men, caps, muskets, canteens, belts, knapsacks, and what not peppered everywhere along the slopes. Through this the regiment trotted at double-quick....

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

“I’ll knock the — — head off of you!”

Headband for “A Transferred Romance” by Howard Pyle (1892)

I seem to be featuring many of Howard Pyle’s “modern” illustrations - I mean those set during his own lifetime and innocent of all pirates, knights, ogres, damsels, cavaliers, minutemen, etc.. But sometimes Pyle’s romantic, fantastical, or historical subjects can be too seductive and distracting, and it’s useful to be reminded that what makes Pyle great isn’t what he painted, but how he painted it. Or, more broadly, it’s not what he put in his pictures, but how he put his pictures together.

Take the one shown here. This sea of bobbing boaters and bowlers has gotten undeservedly little attention since its sole appearance in Harper’s Weekly for April 9, 1892. Pyle painted it that winter for his own story, “A Transferred Romance,” in which he drew on his own experiences as a young artist.

The halftone reproduction is primitive, yet still powerful. Pyle’s crowds are never static masses, but living, often lurching organisms composed of distinct individuals. And while the image has a photographic feel, clearly Pyle was deliberate in his placement of highlighted shoulders, hat brims and crowns, and other edges, which all add force to the fist thrusting toward the cowering artist (named Regy).

Here is the passage Pyle depicted:
“— — you!” cried Jack Kelly, in the same high-pitched hoarseness of mad passion. “I’ll knock the — — head off of you!”

As he spoke he tore off his coat, and threw down his hat with a dreadful readiness.

Then, in an instant, in a flash, Regy saw that Nemesis had come, and he felt his soul melt within at the imminence of the dreadful thing that was coming upon him. He was horribly frightened. His knees seemed to grow suddenly weak, and he knew the blood left his cheeks. He looked about him like one in a nightmare, and he saw that a horrid circle hemmed him in. Almost instantly, upon the first outburst of the disturbance, a crowd had gathered around the two, those on the outskirts standing upon the benches around. Regy saw, as in a dream, the faces of the men, some laughing, all interested; he saw the girls clustering in fear, like a flock of sheep in a thunder-storm, and poor Hetty Donnelly white as death. All had passed in a second or two, but it seemed to him a long time.

“Let me go,” cried he, panting. “I don’t want to fight.”

Friday, April 8, 2011

“While yet her cheek was bright with summer bloom”

“While yet her cheek was bright with summer bloom” by Howard Pyle (1886)

Another great Howard Pyle composition inside a square (okay: it’s actually 4.1 x 4.8").

“While yet her cheek was bright with summer bloom” comes from Thomas Buchanan Read’s The Closing Scene, published by J. B. Lippincott in 1886. It was engraved by Frank French. Pyle made five illustrations for this book and this one, to my mind, is the most interesting: I particularly like his window treatment - the blinds, slightly askew, and the partially-obscured soldiers marching off to war. While it is somewhat “flat” and “posed” and “stiff” (compared to his later, looser works), it's still rock solid - in a very good way.

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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

“Looking into the Prussian Lines...”

“Looking into the Prussian Lines from the Château de la Muette” by Howard Pyle (1886)

Speaking of Howard Pyle’s penchant for nicely unexpected grouping, here’s another example. He painted it in the fall of 1886 for E. B. Washburne’s “The Siege and Commune of Paris” (Scribner’s Magazine, February 1887). Pyle could do such amazing things inside the confines of a square (or almost a square).

“Looking into the Prussian Lines from the Château de la Muette” illustrates the following passage taken from the diary Washburne - then President Grant’s Minister to France - kept during the Franco-Prussian War:
Thursday, 5 p.m., January 19, 1871.

123d day of the Siege.
15th day of the Bombardment.

This is the day of the great sortie. At this hour nothing is known of results, but it has undoubtedly been the bloodiest yet seen about the walls of Paris. The great fighting seems to be between St. Cloud and Versailles, or rather to the north of St. Cloud. It is said, however, that other parts of the Prussian lines have been attacked also, but I hardly believe it; but the attack has been terrific on St. Cloud. At 2.30 p.m. Colonel Hoffman and myself went to the Chateau de la Muette, in Passy, which is the headquarters of Admiral de Langle. This is a historic chateau once owned by the Duke of Orleans, Philip Egalite, and where he held high carnival. Nature made it a magnificent spot, elevated and beautiful, and it was adorned by everything that money and taste could supply. It is now owned by Madame Erard, the widow of the celebrated piano manufacturer. From the cupola of this chateau is the most magnificent view on that side of Paris, and it was there that we went to look through the great telescope into the Prussian lines. We found there M. Jules Favre [the bearded man, pointing], Ernest Picard, Minister of Finance, M. Durey, the Minister of Public Instruction under the Empire, Henri Martin, the French historian, and others....
Pyle’s original painting in black and white oil (about 13 3/8 x 14 1/2") can be seen at the Delaware Art Museum.

Monday, April 4, 2011

“Washington Firing the First Gun at the Siege of Yorktown”

“Washington Firing the First Gun at the Siege of Yorktown” by Howard Pyle (1898)

Such nicely abstract grouping by Howard Pyle here. But “Washington Firing the First Gun at the Siege of Yorktown” - the eleventh in his celebrated series illustrating Henry Cabot Lodge’s “The Story of the Revolution” - is not very well known these days. Pyle most likely painted this at Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1898 and it appeared in Scribner's Magazine that November. Subsequently, I assume, the full-color oil on canvas (about 36 x 24") was trundled around the country as a part of Scribner’s traveling “Revolutionary Pictures” exhibition, and perhaps it was sold somewhere along the way, since the original has yet to turn up.