Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Morn by Howard Pyle, 1903

A number of Howard Pyle's major works are surprisingly under-documented. For example, his painting "Christmas Morn" which was issued as a supplement to the Chicago Tribune for Sunday, December 20, 1903. Its appearance in the newspaper coincided with a major exhibition of Pyle's works at the Art Institute of Chicago, which, in turn, coincided with a couple of lectures Pyle delivered there. The original has yet to appear, but I assume it's a fairly large oil on canvas, which took a fair amount of time to paint. Somehow, though, I've found no mention of it in Pyle's (or anyone else's) correspondence. Then again, the same can be said of another major work - and another depiction of Christ, and practically a companion piece to "Christmas Morn" - called "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead" which appeared in Collier's Weekly for April 15, 1905.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Howard Pyle’s Santa Claus, 1883

We don’t usually associate Howard Pyle with Santa Claus, but Harper’s Young People for December 18, 1883, features Pyle’s only known published images of the jolly old elf. These illustrated “Revolt of the Holidays” by Edward Irenæus Stevenson. Granted, Pyle’s Santa Claus is not as fully realized as the one imagined by his friend Thomas Nast, or by his student N. C. Wyeth, but beggars can’t be choosers. The Delaware Art Museum owns the original pen and ink drawings.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Perfect Christmas, 1881

One of the remarkable things about Howard Pyle the craftsman - or, in this case, the draughtsman - was his skillful use of so many different drawing styles. For a long time I was mostly aware of his pen and ink work as seen in Robin Hood, Pepper and Salt, The Wonder Clock, Otto of the Silver Hand, and his Arthuriad (i.e. his books readily available from Dover Publications). They were “what Pyle’s drawings look like” to me. In digging deeper into Pyle’s work, however, I’ve come across things that have thrown off my preconceptions.

“Do you live with Santa Claus in his own house?” for “A Perfect Christmas” by William O. Stoddard, was published - solely - in Harper’s Young People for December 20, 1881. The composition is dominated by the cut tree, but the whole drawing - full of short, straight strokes - almost looks like it was made of pine needles. Pyle used this technique here and there from about 1880 to 1882, and drew this one around the same time as - though it barely resembles - his illustrations for Yankee Doodle and The Lady of Shalott.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

December 17, 1906

A detail from "The Landing of Carteret" by Howard Pyle

After resigning from McClure's Magazine in the summer of 1906, Howard Pyle threw himself into work on “The Landing of Carteret”, his mural for the Essex County Court House in Newark, New Jersey. It had been commissioned by architect Cass Gilbert and was the largest thing Pyle had yet tackled - about six feet high and 16 feet wide - and it was supposed to be completed and installed by the end of the year.

On October 16, 1906, Pyle anxiously wrote to fellow muralist Edwin Howland Blashfield, “my work upon my picture has hardly advanced beyond the elementary stages.” But by December 1, he was able to report to Cass Gilbert, “I have laid everything else aside and have been working unremittingly upon it Sundays and holidays as well as other days. I now hope to have the painting completed, D.V., perhaps by the 15th and almost surely by the 20th of the month.”

On Sunday, December 16, Gilbert and his wife inspected the painting in Wilmington. Pyle was still at work, however, as on the following day he wrote the following letter to sculptor Thomas Shields Clarke:
1305 Franklin Street,
Wilmington, Delaware.

December 17th 1906

Dear Mr Clarke:—

I do not know how I can sufficiently thank you for the most interesting document with seals attached which you sent me.

It is exactly the kind of thing which interests me and you have guessed it as by intuition[.]

Not only is it valuable to me in itself but it came just at the opportune moment when I wanted precisely such a detail to put into my picture of the Landing of Carteret, which I am painting for the new Essex Co Court House.

Sometime, perhaps, you may see it in the picture.

With best wishes for the season and with heartiest regards I am—

Very Sincerely Yours

Howard Pyle
According to news reports, Pyle finished the mural on Christmas Eve, but for all the hurry it wasn’t set in place until March 9, 1907.

I first encountered the above letter in 1992 and had despaired of ever figuring out who “Mr Clarke” was, but I just learned that Thomas Shields Clarke also gave “seven old vellum documents, with very interesting seals” to his alma mater, Princeton University, according to the Princeton Alumni Weekly for May 26, 1909. Below is a scan of the original letter which features what Pyle called his “dreadful chirography.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pyle's Post-Publication Changes, Part 1

Illustrators, have you ever wanted to alter a picture after it was published? I know I have - too many times - but I've always stopped myself before going through with it. Howard Pyle never stopped himself, though, particularly when he had good reasons to change something. Historical accuracy was one.

Take "The Burial of Braddock" from Woodrow Wilson's George Washington. Here it is as it appeared in Harper's Monthly for March 1896 and in the book version published later that year.

Now, in reviewing the book, writer and historian Paul Leicester Ford criticized some of the details in the illustrations. Pyle heard about this in late April 1897, just when most of the original oil paintings were about to be purchased and presented to the Boston Public Library. No doubt chagrined, but "anxious to make them as accurate as possible," Pyle asked Ford for advice on how to correct them, "especially as my pictures are now, as it were, to go upon record."

In his review, Ford had said of the burial scene: "Common sense should have informed the artist that there was no time to get or make a coffin for Braddock, if the account had not specifically stated that he was wrapped in a standard." Apparently, Ford reiterated this point in his answer to Pyle.

"I had overlooked the fact that Braddock was wrapped in a standard," Pyle admitted, "but I disagree with you that the body would have been buried uncased or uncoffined." As Braddock had died at 10 p.m. and was buried at dawn, Pyle reasoned that "in the interim...some rude case would have been constructed to contain the remains. This is what I have tried to represent, and not a well constructed and well finished coffin." And while Pyle agreed that Braddock's uniform and boot-toes should be hidden by a flag, he told Ford, "I shall probably allow the roughly made box to remain, unless you, in your kindness, will suggest some further detail to indicate that I was in error."

Evidently, Ford indeed suggested that the "rough box" should be rougher still, for Pyle replaced it with one built from a broken up crate - as can be seen in the painting now "upon record" in Boston.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Assassination of William of Orange, 1900

In looking over the majority of my Howard Pyle posts, I see that I’ve been unconsciously featuring his “modern day” illustrations. Maybe it’s because I don’t think they’ve ever gotten their due. So, to placate those who want to see more of his “historical” work, here’s one that doesn’t get out too often.

It’s “Assassination of William of Orange” from The Rise of the Dutch Republic in the Volume Five (of 17!) of The Writings of John Lothrop Motley (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1900). Pyle contributed only one illustration to the set, so it’s not the easiest picture to get a hold of, and, so far, I’ve only found only one place where he mentions it. In a February 25, 1907, letter to Merle Johnson, Pyle passingly refers to the Motley volume “for which I made one rather poor drawing.” I respectfully disagree!

The original (probably oil on board) has yet to surface, but the photogravure plate measures 4.9 x 3.3 inches.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December 13, 1909

A thank you letter from Howard Pyle to Thomas Casilear Cole (July 23, 1888 Staatsburgh, New York - March 1976 New York City), later a portrait painter and teacher, but then a sometime poet and student at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, residing at 205 West Newton Street, Boston.

A Child Sunburned in December 1881

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s nice, if rare, to put an exact creation date on a work by Howard Pyle. In so many cases, we only know the publication dates, but those can be misleading: a Pyle fable (also already mentioned) written in late 1876 took nine years to appear in print, as did his article “A Peculiar People” written in late 1880 and published in 1889. These are extreme cases, of course, but the crazed stickler for accuracy in me bristles even when I can’t pin down a date to within a few months. Pyle sometimes dated his pictures, but for the most part we have to rely on his patchy correspondence to figure out when he was working on what.

Now here’s piece of good fortune: it’s the actual bill (transcribed below) that Pyle sent along with a completed illustration to Emily Sartain, art editor for Our Continent, a short lived magazine published in Philadelphia. (A fascinating figure in her own right, Emily Sartain was an artist and an engraver, a friend of Mary Cassatt, and had once been romantically linked with Thomas Eakins.)

The $60.00 illustration was “A child sunburned, and with many fluttering shreds of raiment” for Helen Campbell’s “Under Green Apple Boughs” and it appeared in the very first issue of Our Continent for February 15, 1882. The 5.2 x 5.8" wood engraving was by Frederick Juengling. The original art has not yet materialized, but two of its companions have, so no doubt it was a black and white gouache, measuring somewhere in the range of 12.5 x 13.5" to 13.5 x 14.75".


I have not heard from the engraver French as yet [Note: Frank French engraved the second, fourth, and sixth illustrations in this series]

Wilmington Del

Dec 9th 1881

Miss Sartain

I send first illus. for Under Green Apple Boughs

I hope and think it will prove satisfactory. I have put the best work I could upon it. Of course you will understand it is coarsely done for reduction to proper size. I hope you will find it follows the text.

Will go right on with the other drawings. Inclosed please find bill

In Haste Yours &c

Howard Pyle



Our Continent Publishing Co

to Howard Pyle Cr

For one illustration for story Under Green Apple Boughs - sixty dollars

$60 00/100.


Friday, December 11, 2009

The Suicide, 1905

I remember when I first saw this picture: I was about 14, in the basement of the Argosy Bookstore in Manhattan, desperately leafing through bound volumes of Harper’s Monthly Magazine in search of Pyles - and this one stopped me dead in my tracks. That gleaming sliver cutting through the curtains! It still makes me squint. And contrast that intense glow with the grayish pallor of the dead man’s flesh - the same tone as his shirt and the curiously placed globe lampshade. The butler's expression may be too exaggerated, but still this is one of Pyle’s most ingenious works in color.

“The Crown-Prince Karl, dead by his own hand” illustrated “Carlotta” by Justus Miles Forman in Harper’s Monthly for May 1905. Subsequently, Pyle exhibited the painting with the title “The Suicide,” but the subject was apparently off-putting to buyers and it remained unsold at the time of his death. The Delaware Art Museum now owns the original.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Professor in His Boat, 1893

Look out, Thomas Eakins! Howard Pyle’s “The Professor in His Boat” - an 8 x 12" black and white oil painted in 1893 and printed (at a mere 2.9 x 4.5") in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Riverside Press, 1894). Amazing in so many ways - and needlessly neglected.
I dare not publicly name the rare joys, the infinite delights, that intoxicate me on some sweet June morning, when the river and bay are smooth as a sheet of beryl-green silk, and I run along ripping it up with my knife-edged shell of a boat, the rent closing after me like those wounds of angels which Milton tells of, but the seam still shining for many a long rood behind me. To lie still over the Flats, where the waters are shallow, and see the crabs crawling and the sculpins gliding busily and silently beneath the boat...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pyle Students at 1616 Rodney Street, 1906

Here is a photograph of Clifford Warren Ashley - wearing a smock - and Henry Jarvis Peck in their studio at 1616 Rodney Street, Wilmington, Delaware. The relative spareness of the space suggests that it was taken in the spring of 1906, soon after they had moved in (plus the painting on the easel is Peck’s “Swiftly He Put the Questions” for "=“Love in the Mist” by Clare Benedict, printed in Harper’s Monthly Magazine for October 1906 and illustrators generally needed to deliver finished art a few months before publication).

The other occupants of the newly erected building (now known as Schoonover Studios) were all “graduates” of the Howard Pyle School of Art: N. C. Wyeth, Arthur True, Harvey Dunn, Stanley Arthurs, and Frank Schoonover. Perhaps one of these men was the photographer.

Incidentally, on the wall behind Peck hangs a large print of Pyle’s “Lady Washington’s Arrival at Headquarters, Cambridge” (1896). A modern photo of the studio from a similar vantage point can be seen here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Pyle Student's Letter Home, Part 2

A transcription of Henry J. Peck's letter to his family:

Wilmington, Delaware, Dec. 8. 1901

Dear Father + Mother, Sister + Brother:

Now of course it’s up to me to tell you all about it so here goes.

In the first place you doubtless want to know my impressions of Mr. Pyle.

I had pictured him as rather short or medium height, and imagine my surprise when he loomed up before me 6 ft. and 2 in. His head is not unlike my mental picture; being innocent of all hair except some (gray) on the back + over the ears.

He has a very strong and kindly face, + is extremely cordial, informal + simple in manner, + treats his pupils in more of a fatherly way than anything else.

The accomp. sketch gives some what the idea of the studios but very imperfectly. The one in the rear on the right is Mr. Pyle’s + has been built 19 years. The other was built at a cost of $8,000 a year or two ago for his pupils + has 3 large studios with fire-places. They are furnished by the pupils with old chairs, desks, clocks etc and are very nice indeed.

The front studio is occupied by [Samuel M.] Palmer, [Philip R.] Goodwin, [Francis] Newton + [Walter] Whitehead.

The middle one by Becker [Arthur E. Becher] + [William J.] Aylward (of Milwaukee) [Ernest J.] Cross (California), [Clifford W.] Ashley, [Gordon M.] McCouch (“McCooch”) + myself.

The rear studio Miss Ethel Franklin Betts and Dorothy Warren (13) have all to themselves.

Frank Schoonover, Stanley Arthurs + [James E.] McBurney have a studio down town where they do their illustrating work. They have been under Mr. Pyle + he of course is still interested in them + they go to the studios for sketch class, comp. etc.

I never before saw a collection of so many nice fellows. Even McCouch, altho’ he is young + sometimes obstreporous is very good-natured.

It seems funny to have to draw casts and it seems strange to draw heads + figures from imagination. No model, except for Sat. sketch class.

Mr. Pyle’s idea seems to be to stimulate the imagination. That is the principal thing.

However it is a little early in the game to say much about it.

The Composition Class meets tomorrow evening.

We get up to the studio about 8 or 8.15.

Mr. Pyle comes in + criticizes, the students following him around from one student’s work to another, so getting all the criticisms.

He comes in again about 12. He gives the students about 3 hrs. a day I should say. He has one model whom he uses for about everything, + has used him about 20 yrs. His name is [John] Weller.

A good many of Mr. Pyle’s drawings are hanging around on the walls.

Friday evening by invitation Ashley + I went up to Mr. Pyle’s house on Broom St. Large house, old furniture.

Mrs. Pyle is very nice indeed. Rather small than otherwise. Of little Pyles there are six. Miss Phebe, 14 and the oldest, Eleanor, Theodore, Howard, Wilfred + Godfrey. Miss Betts and Dorothy also live there. We had a very pleasant evening, popped corn, + looked at some old proofs of Mr. Pyle’s drawings.

Ashley + I occupy the top floor at 907 Adams St. My room tho’ rather small is all right. $6.00 per mo. Most of the fellows eat at Mrs. [Anna] Pyle’s (no relation to Howard) across the St. at 906. $4.00 week.

Very good grub. Living costs me about same as in Boston as I paid more for room + less for grub. Its good grub here + regular hours of course. A solemn colored boy named [James? Jonas?] waits upon us. There are 10 fellows at the table, all Mr. Pyle’s pupils but one.

I’m afraid Mr. [Eric] Pape would not approve of Mr. Pyle’s method of instructing without models. As I know how to draw comparatively well, if I can get hold of Mr. Pyle’s teachings it ought to be a good thing for me.

Wilmington I like very well indeed. It is an old town, built of brick with brick paved streets, which seem quite home-like. About 60000 people, 20000 of whom are colored so I hear. It is slightly hilly in parts + altogether has an air of an old southern town which is very pleasant to me.

I went to service at Trinity Church this morning, 2 blocks from here. A commodious stone church. Vested choir. Good sized congregation. Rev. Mr. Henry. He came running down + greeted me before I had been there a minute, took my address, + asked me to come right along to services. Also when I was going out a Warden called me by name + shook hands with me with pleasant remarks.

I understand there are 8 or 9 other Episcopal churches here.

It was rough on the Sound Tuesday night. The boat rolled + rolled, + groaned and creaked like anything. I had a state-room. In New York I visited with Keen + Harry Cole awhile. The latter is connected with a law office in the highest building in N.Y. or in the world I suppose (of its kind). We went up 26 stories to admire the view. [Peck may have been referring to the Park Row Building]

At the Household I learned that a check had been sent to Boston for me the night before.

I received it 2 days ago. I thought it was for the full am’t. imagine my disappointment when it proved to be $19.00 only. Glad to get that much though. I suppose I’ll get the rest some time. Also got a bill for taxes from Boston. I suppose I won’t have to do anything about that will I now that I do not live there any more.

I had to pay $5.00 for studio rent for Oct. and Nov. and will have to pay $5 a mo. from now on.

Has business begun to be rushing yet. I was in a crockery store last night and it made me think of old times.

How is Margaret progressing at school. Marion Bowen told me that Marg. played Basket Ball.

I had another letter from Grandma a couple of weeks ago.

Give my love to Lucie. How is she?



A Pyle Student’s Letter Home, Part 1

In early December 1901, a young artist named Henry Jarvis Peck arrived in Wilmington to study illustration under Howard Pyle.

Peck was born June 10, 1880, in Galesburg, Illinois, and grew up in Warren, Rhode Island. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and then the Eric Pape School of Art in Boston, where his classmates included Clifford W. Ashley, a cousin, who had also just joined Pyle's class; N. C. Wyeth, who came down the following fall; and Sidney Marsh Chase, who became a Pyle student in 1903 [actually, I’m not sure when!].

On Sunday, December 8, 1901, Peck wrote his first letter home and I am happy to be able to display it here. A complete transcription will follow in a new post.

December 8, 1894

"True value of illustrative work is originality - Do what you see, not what another man sees - Don’t be schooly"
Howard Pyle at Drexel Institute, December 8, 1894 (as recorded by Bertha Corson Day)

Monday, December 7, 2009

On This Day in Howard Pyle History?

On December 7, 1900, Howard Pyle had a special guest at his studio on Franklin Street in Wilmington, Delaware. Yes, none other than Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University...Woodrow Wilson!

Well, maybe.

At this time, the two were corresponding regularly about Pyle’s illustrations for Wilson’s “Colonies and Nation” which appeared in Harper’s Monthly Magazine throughout 1901.

On December 1, 1900, Wilson wrote to Pyle:
I find (have only just now found for certain) that the date fixed for my lecture before the New Century Club in Wilmington is December sixth, next Thursday. I am to stay at Mr. Job Jackson’s [at 1101 Washington Street]. If you are to be at home the next morning, will you not let me know at what time I may call on you? A lecture rather does me up; but the next morning I will be fit to enjoy myself again.
Pyle replied on December 3, 1900:
Of course I shall be most delighted to see you, say at my studio the day after you lecture here in Wilmington. I am only sorry that we are not to have the pleasure of entertaining you. I shall probably see you the night of the lecture.
And then a few months later, on March 6, 1901, Pyle asked: “When do you come to Wilmington again? Do not forget that the next time you are to stay with me.” Wilson replied the next day: “Thank you very much for saying what you do about my staying with you the next time I come to Wilmington. The idea is most attractive. May the thing some day happen!”

So it’s still up in the air if Woodrow Wilson visited Howard Pyle on December 7, 1900, and I’m inclined to think Wilson never wound up being Pyle’s house guest once their collaboration was over. But if ever I obtain corroborating evidence, I’ll let you know.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Fox, the Monkey, and the Pig

Howard Pyle most likely wrote and illustrated the following fable in November or December 1876 and it appeared in the September 1878 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls. The delay was not unusual for the magazine: another fable written at the same time wasn’t published until December 1885. Pyle's original 4.8 x 7.6" ink drawing, like so many others from this period, is at the Delaware Art Museum.

The Fox, the Monkey, and the Pig

The fox, the monkey, and the pig were once inseparable companions. As they were nearly always together, the fox’s thefts so far reflected upon his innocent associates, that they were all three held to be wicked animals.

At length, the enemies of these three laid a snare, in a path they were known to use.

The first that came to the trap was the pig. He viewed it with contempt, and, to show his disdain of his enemies and his disregard for their snare, he tried to walk through it with a lofty tread. He found he had undervalued it, however, when, in spite of his struggles, he was caught.

The next that came was the monkey. He inspected the trap carefully; then, priding himself upon the skill and dexterity of his fingers, he tried to pick it to pieces. In a moment of carelessness, however, he became entangled, and soon met the same fate as the pig.

The last that came was the fox. He looked at the snare anxiously, from a distance, and, approaching cautiously, soon made himself thoroughly acquainted with its size and power. Then he cried, “Thus do I defeat the machinations of my enemies!” - and, avoiding the trap altogether, by leaping completely over it, he went on his way rejoicing.

Bliss on November 28, 1876

It’s nice - and all too rare - to put an exact creation date on a Howard Pyle illustration. On November 28, 1876, Pyle, then living in New York, wrote to his mother, back home in Wilmington: “I was at work today making some comic Illustrations, as I want to make some money between now and Christmas. The first was called ‘Bliss’; it represents a diminutive gamin with his head buried under the sunbonnet of as diminutive a little girl.” The drawing appeared in the Bric-a-Brac section of Scribner's Monthly for May 1877. The Delaware Art Museum owns the original 5.5 x 5.9" ink drawing.

Friday, December 4, 2009

December 4, 1903

“...In discussing ‘American Art’ at the Art Institute yesterday afternoon Howard Pyle, the illustrator, urged American artists to be American and to give full sway to their creative powers. Thought and imagination, as against technique, were emphasized. Western artists were praised for their spirit and enthusiasm, but Mr. Pyle said that he did not think they produced the best there is in them. He hinted that this was due to the way in which the Art Institute is directing their work....”
Chicago Record-Herald, December 4, 1903

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Robert Louis Stevenson's Howard Pyle Scheme

It’s a shame that Howard Pyle never got the chance to fully illustrate a Robert Louis Stevenson tale; they were - at least subjectively - kindred spirits. In the 1880s they pretty much co-defined the popular conception of what pirates looked like and sounded like and said and did. I don't yet know if they ever met, but they had mutual friends and acquaintances and admired each other's work. There’s an 1887 letter from Stevenson (then living at Saranac Lake) to Charles Scribner, his American publisher, in which he expressed a wish that, sadly, went unrealized. He wrote:
I have always forgotten to make to you my great proposal. I want you to set Howard Pyle to work on Marryat’s Phantom Ship: he will never get so good a subject; and if you and he will do your part, I will do mine and write a preface.

Edition de luxe.
Howard Pyle’s
The Phantom Ship
by Marryat
Preface by R. L. Stevenson
Charles Scribner’s Sons.
New York.

This is pure gold.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Pyle

Robert Louis Stevenson died 115 years ago today, so here is Howard Pyle’s sole illustration for Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Even though quite a few of Pyle’s pictures are set in “modern” times (i.e. circa 1865-1911), they tend to be eclipsed by his historical and fantasy work. But this one has all the earmarks of his best and better-known pieces: a riveting, yet dynamic composition; fine detail (where needed) that gives way to looser, more evocative brushwork; great chiaroscuro, tension, drama; and it leaves plenty to the imagination while perfectly complementing the passage it illustrates:
He put the glass to his lips and drank at one gulp. A cry followed; he reeled, staggered, clutched at the table and held on, staring with injected eyes, gasping with open mouth; and as I looked there came, I thought, a change - he seemed to swell - his face became suddenly black and the features seemed to melt and alter - and the next moment, I had sprung to my feet and leaped back against the wall, my arms raised to shield me from that prodigy, my mind submerged in terror.

“O God!” I screamed, and “O God!” again and again; for there before my eyes - pale and shaken, and half fainting, and groping before him with his hands, like a man restored from death - there stood Henry Jekyll!

It reminds me (in a twisted way) of Vermeer’s “The Artist in His Studio” - the heavy drapery at one side, the framed picture (as opposed to a map) on the back wall, the placement and lighting of the cluttered table, the almost photographic “presence” (for want of a better expression) - though Pyle’s is more of a snapshot whereas Vermeer’s is a large format studio portrait.

It was published in Volume Seven of The Novels and Tales of Robert Louis Stevenson (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895). The reproduction is a tiny 2.9 x 4.1" and the original oil on board is 11 x 15.6" and can be seen at the Delaware Art Museum.

“A Study”

“A Study” in charcoal with white highlights on paper (19 x 31.5") by Howard Pyle was exhibited at the Second Exhibition of the Los Angeles Architectural Club, January 12-25, 1911. It was loaned by Scott Quintin of Los Angeles and a reproduction of it appeared in the catalogue. So far so good. But when did Pyle make it? 1900? 1910? Sometime in between? And how did Quintin get it? I just don't know.

In 1911, however, Scott Quintin (1884-1963) was an architect and from about 1907 on Howard Pyle grew more and more anxious to obtain mural commissions from architects. So did Pyle send it to the exhibition (via Quintin) as a way to drum up interest in his work? Or did he give it or sell it to Quintin, who exhibited it without Pyle's knowledge?

On the other hand, according to Who’s Who in the Pacific Southwest (Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Printing & Binding House, 1913), Scott Quintin studied free-hand and architectural drawing at the Drexel Institute between 1897 and 1904. So was “A Study” something a teenaged Quintin acquired during his Drexel days? Was it something Pyle drew in front of his class as part of a demonstration and then, say, left behind, only to be secreted home by Quintin (who, as far as I know, was not a Pyle student)? Or did Pyle simply give it to Quintin sometime between 1897 and 1900?

Well, at least we do know that the cavalier in “A Study” is wearing the same boots which turn up in dozens of Pyle’s pictures - the same boots which were “inherited” by his student Stanley Arthurs, then purchased by Betsy James Wyeth, then presented to her husband at Christmas 1950, then worn by Andrew Wyeth as he took recuperative rambles over the fields around Chadds Ford, and then featured by him (sans buckles) in his 1951 “self-portrait” called “Trodden Weed.”

I want those boots!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Bit of Politics in the Olden Times, 1880

Howard Pyle’s “Politics in the Olden Times - General Jackson, President-elect, on His Way to Washington” (13.3 x 9.1") was engraved on wood by Smithwick & French and accompanied a short text titled “A Presidential Progress” in Harper’s Weekly for March 12, 1881. Pyle painted it in 1880 (apparently in April) and the scene takes place somewhere along the Old National Pike, which he had traversed from Frederick, Maryland, to West Virginia in 1879 with William Henry Rideing, an English-born journalist, in preparation for a long, illustrated article for Harper's Monthly. Now let me catch my breath...

Here is a small portion of the original painting (17 x 11.5") which will be sold tomorrow. The lot listing says it is “grisaille on paperboard” and I assume Pyle used gouache as it was his medium of choice at the time for what he exasperatingly called his “wash drawings.” I detect a distinct proto-Norman Rockwellian quality to this detail and to the picture as a whole, but it is typical of Pyle’s work for Harper's Weekly from the early 1880s.

The Chase of the Tide, 1901

When it comes to pictures, I am particularly fond of oblong compositions - especially oblong horizontal compositions. Is it from watching so many widescreen films? Is it something I’m genetically predisposed to, something I inherited from my father? It doesn’t matter. But here is an oblong Howard Pyle that has undeservedly slipped through the cracks - that is, unless you have the August 1901 issue of McClure’s Magazine handy. It’s an untitled illustration for “The Chase of the Tide” by Norman Duncan, and weighs in at a mere 5 x 1.7 inches. The printing isn’t great and the halftone (which shows the hand of an actual, human engraver, who has retouched the sky and bits of the boat) is murky, but the abstract wonderfulness of the picture shines through. As you see, words fail me.

Good for the Soul, 1898

Howard Pyle’s headpiece for “Good for the Soul” by Margaret Deland (part of her series of Old Chester Tales) printed in Harper’s Monthly for May 1898. As with his illustration for Jack Ballister’s Fortunes, I’m amazed at Pyle’s gift for effectively showing midday sun, in this case on the hills and dusty roads of Chester County, Pennsylvania - not far from where he started his summer school, just a few weeks after this piece was published. A lovely picture, in spite of the iffy halftone, and the original - in color! - is lovelier still.