Friday, January 27, 2012

“Myles, as in a dream, kneeled, and presented the letter”

“Myles, as in a dream, kneeled, and presented the letter” illustrates the following passage from the second installment of Howard Pyle’s novel Men of Iron in Harper's Young People for January 27, 1891:
[The Earl of Mackworth] was a tall man, taller even than Myles’s father. He had a thin face, deep-set bushy eyebrows, and a hawk nose. His upper lip was clean shaven, but from his chin a flowing beard of iron-gray hung nearly to his waist. He was clad in a riding-gown of black velvet that hung a little lower than the knee, trimmed with otter fur and embroidered with silver goshawks - the crest of the family of Beaumont.
A light shirt of link mail showed beneath the gown as he walked, and a pair of soft undressed leather riding-boots were laced as high as the knee, protecting his scarlet hose from mud and dirt. Over his shoulders he wore a collar of enamelled gold, from which hung a magnificent jewelled pendant, and upon his fist he carried a beautiful Iceland falcon.
As Myles stood staring, he suddenly heard Gascoyne’s voice whisper in his ear, “Yon is my Lord; go forward and give him thy letter.”
Scarcely knowing what he did, he walked towards the Earl like a machine, his heart pounding within him and a great humming in his ears. As he drew near, the nobleman stopped for a moment and stared at him, and Myles, as in a dream, kneeled, and presented the letter.
Pyle’s devoted student Thornton Oakley bought the original black and white oil painting (7.75 x 10.5" - done in Summer or Fall of 1890) from Herb Roth for $42.00! It now lives at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

This one - like a few others from the novel - makes me ache. Is it the almost photographic “presence”? The deceptively simple composition? The grouping of figures, tones, textures? Pyle is lauded for his scenes of dramatic action, but time and again I’m more affected by his scenes of dramatic inaction.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

“Some Took His Time”

“Some took his time” by Howard Pyle is an illustration for “How the Old Horse Won the Bet” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, which formed part of The One Hoss Shay With its Companion Poems, published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co. in 1905.

For this project, the publisher supplied Pyle with proofs - printed on Bristol board - of the illustrations he had made for the 1891 edition of the book, which Pyle then “colorized” with watercolors.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

“The Good Old Doctor”

Howard Pyle illustrated two books by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes for the 1891 and 1892 holiday seasons, so it was only natural that the publisher, Houghton, Mifflin & Co., would want him to illustrate the one slated for 1893.

Pyle, though, had second thoughts: this was around the time he declared that he “intended to do no book illustrations, except in connection with [his] own writings.” But Art Editor Winthrop Scudder - who was also Pyle’s close friend - urged him to take on the project. In a letter of January 24, 1893, Scudder wrote:
You are probably aware that in our plans for the coming year the Autocrat has taken the first place. In other words, this is our leading book. If it is not illustrated by you I fear it will have to take a much less prominent place in the line. You are in such perfect sympathy with Dr. Holmes, not only on his literary side, but on the humorous as well, that I have felt from the beginning that your work on this book would give you a great deal of pleasure, delight the good old doctor, and satisfy the general public, who are so well acquainted with the Autocrat.
Despite his reservations, Pyle accepted - and wound up doing 59 illustrations for the two-volume set, including 15 full-page paintings (such as this and this). Two of the latter group which haven’t gotten much attention are the portraits of Dr. Holmes shown here. Both have a distinctly (and no doubt deliberately) photographic look, and although Pyle didn’t make exact copies of photos, he did indeed adapt some. Like this daguerreotype:

And since this daguerreotype (like most) produced a mirror image of its subject, Pyle wisely reversed Dr. Holmes in his painting:

Monday, January 23, 2012

“Mr. Leuba”

“Mr. Leuba” by Howard Pyle (1890)
Poor “Mr. Leuba” - he didn’t go far. He appeared in James Lane Allen’s “Flute and Violin” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for December 1890, but when the Howard Pyle-illustrated story came out in book form the following May, he was nowhere to be seen.

Well, not exactly. In one of the other illustrations - “It was a very gay dinner” - which did appear in both the magazine and the book, Mr. Leuba is seated in the background - with almost exactly the same pose and expression as in his “portrait”...

“It was a very gay dinner” by Howard Pyle (1890)

 The scan of “Mr. Leuba” was made from Pyle’s original ink on bristol board - 2 3/8 x 2 1/2" on a 7 1/4 x 8 15/16" sheet - and it’s possible to see some pencil marks where he loosely sketched in his drawing and how he scratched out the highlights in Leuba’s eyes.

“I think it a very capital story and am sure it will be a pleasant one to illustrate,” Pyle had said after reading the manuscript. But he ran into trouble. “Slight as the drawings are, I have had very ill-luck with them, having done most of them over once or twice, if not more times,” he wrote on June 7, 1890. “I would like to make the ultimate result as satisfactory as possible.”

The nervous pen-work is typical of Pyle’s transitional period, when he broke away from the slower, controlled style of The Wonder Clock (1887) and Otto of the Silver Hand (1888) and adopted the more scratchy method seen in The One Hoss Shay (1891).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Howard Pyle’s Drawing Desk

While sitting, tethered to my drawing table pretty constantly for three months, I often wondered what it would be like to stand and draw. That’s what Howard Pyle did, sometimes. Legend has it that he even had a drawing desk custom-made at just the right height so that he could comfortably draw - or write - standing up.

I had pictured it being like an old fashioned, four-legged schoolmaster’s desk, until I finally laid eyes on it (for the first time, I think) this past fall at the Delaware Art Museum. It’s really more of a lectern (or rostrum, or shtender) and it’s not “Early American” at all. And now I wonder if Pyle had it specially made or if he merely had an existing piece - like this one - modified. One of Pyle’s mahlsticks sits on the little top shelf.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

“Hey, black cat! hey, my pretty black cat”

“Hey, black cat! hey, my pretty black cat” by Howard Pyle (1891)

“I send you to-day the three drawings for Giles Corey Yeoman and return enclosed the MS.,“ wrote Howard Pyle to Arthur B. Turnure of Harper & Brothers on January 6, 1892. “I hope you will like the drawings; I do not know whether it was doing them for a new Art Editor or not but I found a considerable difficulty in getting them to my own satisfaction. I hope now they may be done to your satisfaction.”

“The pictures are not yet dry, be careful in unboxing them,” he added.

“Hey, black cat! hey, my pretty black cat” was one of the set - perhaps the best one - of four (not three) paintings (not drawings) Pyle made for Mary E. Wilkins’ “Giles Corey, Yeoman” - almost a year before its appearance in Harper's New Monthly Magazine for December 1892.

Pyle liked the project. Back on October 29, 1891 - and just after reading the manuscript - he had written to Harper’s previous art editor, Frederick B. Schell:
It is one of the best short stories that I have ever had given me to illustrate. It is told with a great deal of power and strength. It seems to have the very tone and local color of the time. I shall be most happy to undertake it and to do my best with it...
It’s hard to imagine what exactly the as-yet-missing original black and white oil painting looks like. Even so, this 4.8 x 7.2" wood-engraving by A. E. Anderson nicely captures the creepy mood of Pyle’s simple, yet powerful composition.