Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Howard Pyle’s Early Impressions of Italy

Around Christmastime 1910, Howard Pyle was able to move his family from the cramped Pensione White “just on the outskirts of the slums” to “a suite of apartments in a very nice part of the city, where we shall be exceedingly comfortable, and where all the houses are new, and nice people live about us” at 6 Via Garibaldi. There, on December 28, he wrote about his as-yet ambivalent impressions of Italy to George Perkins Bissell, his friend back in Wilmington (who was also the brother of Emily Perkins Bissell):
I do not think an American of middle age who has spent practically all of his time in the United States should expect too much from Italy. As a rule, it is worn out and dilapidated, dirty and run down. Here in Florence, for instance, there are many old churches and many old palaces dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The churches are of black and white marble variegated with brown. They are dirty, stained and muddy with the dirt and dust of centuries: and personally I do not think anything of their architectural effect; but the insides of them are, in many instances, filled with treasures of art. The palaces every one look like prisons, and while inside there are fine carved pillars and some stunning stair cases, and court yards surrounded with coats-of-arms, yet outside they are gloomy and austere. They were nearly all of them built in the fourteenth century, and that was a time when every man’s hand was against every man, and every man’s hand against him: when the guards on the roofs used to shoot darts across the street at the guards on the other roofs, and every moment was the time of an assault. Many of these palaces are now converted into stores and market places, and a poor, homely, exceeding picturesque rabble down in the street below jostle and elbow one another; and there are butcher shops and drogherias (that is, rum shops) and there are bakers, and all sorts of nondescript tradesmen on the ground floors. This as you see is not at all like our well-made and well-arranged American life. It is very picturesque: but when that is said, all is said.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

“Art” by Howard Pyle, 1908

In a letter dated December 22, 1908, architect Cass Gilbert wrote to Howard Pyle:
Your speech at the dinner was a great success. I heard many favorable and enthusiastic comments among the members of the Institute but not one criticism. You seem to have struck exactly the right note. As for myself, I concurred heartily in every word you said.
When I read this statement years ago, I thought, “What speech? What dinner?” Over time I was able to find out that Pyle spoke on December 17, 1908, at the banquet of the 42nd Annual Convention of the American Institute of Architects, at Washington, D.C.

A little more digging turned up the speech itself, printed in the AIA’s Proceedings, published the following year. But it turns out that when Pyle learned that the AIA was to put his words in print, he asked if he could rework them. He explained to Gilbert on December 23, 1908:
As you know, I had composed an entirely different speech from that which I delivered, that which I spoke being hastily arranged during the course of the dinner. I think it should be revised before being given to the public - the points sharpened, and the rhetoric put in better shape than is possible in an extempore address.
And so, the “official” version of Pyle’s speech differed from what he actually said. Unbeknownst to Pyle, however, (and perhaps even to the leaders of the AIA) a transcript of his address as delivered had been sent to The Western Architect and appeared in the January 1909 issue, reprinted below...

by Howard Pyle

What is art? When we ask that question, the idea ordinarily intended is of a picture, of a statue, or a beautiful work of the architect; but art to me has a far greater, a far more vital significance than that. Art is the expression of a human thought in a living and a permanent form. As that thought is great and noble and grand within the man that conceives it, so in that degree is the work that he produces great and noble and grand. There is no school, there is no possible means whereby a great work of art can be created. The great work of art must emanate from the man - not from without, not by lines or rules or methods - it must emanate from the man. What is it that makes the great Saint Gaudens statue of Sherman so very great? It is not its technical skill; it is not any particular form or line or method of construction, but it is that that great man conceives within his mind the image of the hero of our war. Before that hero, advancing from the rock whereon he stands, the very ideal of American victory. It is American. It is not based upon any line or any rule or any method; but it is American, and therefore it is great, because it appeals from a great American soul to the soul of every other American who beholds it.

For three and thirty years I have served steadfastly at my chosen profession as an illustrator. In that time I have beheld the art of illustration, originating from small, obscure beginnings of a discredited handcraft, extend, expand and grow, until today it is almost, if not quite, the most dominant factor in existing American art. In that growth there is symbolized the truth that governs and must govern the product of all works of art. That truth is this: that any given work, to make its final and its most magnificent appeal, must be based upon the divine truth of uses. Unless a work of art meets a use, unless it fits to the demands, the aspirations and the ideals of the age in which it is created, it is a failure, and nothing can possibly make that art a success. [Applause.] The art of illustration is a success. Why? Primarily because the people of this country desire and love that which is beautiful. I have no patience with the talk, that emanates largely from the studios, of educating the American people to understand art. Educate the artist to understand the American people. [Applause.] If the artist understands the American people, there is no question of his work being a success. He does not have to depend upon commissions or ministries or any means to make his art a success, for it is a success in itself, because it emanates from a living soul and reaches to the other living souls who receive it. The art of illustration is a success for the simple reason that the American people love to see that which they read made beautiful with pictured image.

It is not far to seek; it is not a profound equation. All art is great just in the degree it is useful; and it is never great in any other degree. What was it that made the art of Phidias great? His art was created for a specific, definite purpose, as definite and as specific as the illustration today for our great magazines was made for a specific purpose. It was made that those who beheld it might be inspired with reverence for their gods and admiration for their heroes. [Applause.] That was the one reason why it was made, and as it touched the reverence and the respect, and the admiration of the Greeks of that day, so does it touch our reverence, our respect and our admiration today; - that when a living thought is embodied in a form that men can see, and touch and understand, it lives forever. What was it made the work of Michael Angelo, Leonardo, of Raphael, Durer, or Holbein great? Those works were great because each and every one was done for a definite and specific purpose. That purpose was to embody the human ideal of reverence for the divine motherhood; and as those artists poured their souls into those pictures that they made, just in that degree do those pictures. live today. They lived then; they live now, and they shall live forever - because they are human, not because they are technical works of art, but because they are human thoughts of excellent ideals cast into a living, visible work.

What is it makes American architecture the most successful art of the day? It is because the inspiration, the ideals, the beauty and graces that emanate in the mind of the architect is cast into the form of use. We talk of the American people not appreciating art. The crowds of American people pour into the public buildings which they themselves built, and who love them because they are beautiful in their eyes, not because they cost so many millions of money, but because they are beautiful. They say: “That is my capitol.” What is it makes the art of the architect successful today? It is because the American eyes can see and behold the visible form of American ideals. I cannot say that the art of painting, of which I am a representative, is so successful, for I do not think that that art is based fundamentally upon the higher uses of humanity, and until it is it cannot be successful.

I would touch again upon what I have heard several times tonight, and that is the education of the American people. I am a plain American. A very charming lady lately accused me of being a Philistine. Well, I am a Philistine. I like my beef and pudding, but I do like other things as well, and I am an American; and as an American I resent the talk that emanates from the studios of educating the American people. Let us instead of talking vaguely about this, recite the true facts, side by side; measure and compare those facts and see their proper significance. Upon the one side is a nation, we will say, of a hundred million people. It is safe to say that it is one of the greatest nations, one of the most enlightened nations in the world - a nation which is successful beyond the highest dreams of success; a nation with high ideals, exalted aspirations; a nation with a limitless future; upon the other side are a group of men (Shall I speak it of my own fellow craftsman?), narrow in their views - necessarily narrow in their views because they are confronted with certain technical rules which make them narrow in their views. As a rule, they are bigoted in their opinions. We all know that, for we are all artists. [Laughter and applause]. Doubting among ourselves as to what is the right thing, it is a great question among the hundreds of schools of art, each differing from the other in his opinion of what is the right thing; callous, not successful as a rule; taking the painters by a large majority, it is not a successful craft. Now, I ask you, with those two pictures placed side by side, which is the better equipped to educate the other? To me there is no doubt about it.

I welcome more than I can tell you the words that have come to me regarding the commission - a government commission or ministry of art - the effect of it - because I would see that commission operate along identically the lines that have made the art of illustration successful. The practical operation of that line is this: On the one side stands the artist equipped to produce beautiful works; upon the other side stands the public, desirous of receiving that which is beautiful. Between the two stand, as a commission (if we may so phrase it) the art editor and the editor in chief of the magazine. The art editor is supposed to be equipped to understand what is beautiful and correct in the art of picture making. The picture is brought to him; that he must pass upon primarily - the picture as being a work of art. Upon the other side of that commission there stands the editor in chief. The editor in chief is in touch with the whole mass of people. He must know that which will touch the heart of a million men. Therefore he demands that that picture shall be so constructed that it shall reach the heart, the understanding and the ideals of a million men. The result, you know as well as I, has been phenomenal. It is incredible to think that in ten and one-half decades the art of illustration should have risen to the height which it represents today. It has risen for no other cause than that it is founded and established upon the love and the desires of the people. That is its foundation and its full foundation; its final foundation.

I have used the simile before as to my ideal of art. I shall venture to use it again. To me the spirit of art is not a poor, weak and puling object, that must be supported by either political or plutocratic patronage. She is strong, erect, straight-limbed, full of the blood of humanity. Her brows are crowned with the stars of Heaven. The mountains are her throne, the earth her footstool, and the everlasting waters of the seas bathe her feet. I use that simile because those things - the sky, the earth, the waters beneath the earth - are the prime equations of humanity. Upon them all finer love and care for art are based. Therefore, that spirit of art that I would serve is crowned and enthroned and bathed by those fundamentals of human life.

I would welcome such a commission as that which has been suggested tonight, not that I think that that commission can create such a spirit of art, but I think that commission can part the curtains of the present, and that that spirit or art can come forth; and, when she is made manifest to the world, then the nations of the earth will come and lay the fruit of her prosperity beneath her shining feet.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Howard Pyle at Santa Croce, December 20, 1910

“The Gothic church of Santa Croce, begun in 1294…was completed in 1442, except the façade, which was added 1857-63. The interior, 128 yds. long, with its widely spaced pillars and open roof of its nave, produces an impressive effect, enhanced by numerous monuments of famous Italians and by Giotto’s venerable frescoes in the choir-chapels (Morning light best).” - Baedeker’s Northern Italy

Brogi, Giacomo (1822-1881) - n. 3033 - Firenze - Chiesa S. Croce, e statua di Dante

One hundred years ago today, on December 20, 1910, Howard and Anne Poole Pyle toured the Basilica di Santa Croce, around the corner from their temporary lodgings on the Piazza Cavalleggieri in Florence. The next day, he wrote to Stanley Arthurs and gave his impressions of some of the things he saw there.

“Yesterday Mrs. Pyle and I went to an old church which was started to be built in the Twelfth Century [sic], and which was only completed in the Nineteenth.”

Annunciazione cavalcanti, santa croce

“There are a number of things in it which are good, or fairly good, and one or two things which are extremely beautiful. Among these is a tomb, or rather, memorial, made by Donatello - beautiful figures, soft greys and gilt.” [I assume Pyle meant Donatello’s “Annunciation” in gilded pietra serena, a grey Italian sandstone.]

Giotto di Bondone 060

“The walls are decorated with pictures of the Giotto school, 14th Century and are interesting as being a transcript of that life. The Italians have not preserved them very closely, but have spread stucco-work over them which has only just been removed.”

Transetto dx, lapide tomba biordo degli ubertini

“I think the things which interested me most were the tombs let into the floor, and the figures of knights and ladies in the costumes of the 14th and 15th centuries worn by passing feet so that you cannot see any detail, but still leaving enough to see the general character.”

Friday, December 17, 2010

Edwin Markham’s Poem to Howard Pyle

Here is a poem by Edwin Markham:
To Howard Pyle

At her light touch, behold! a voice proceeds
Out of all things to chide our sordid deeds;
A beauty breaks, a beauty ever strange,
The Changeless that is back of all the change.
Lightly it comes as when a rose would be
Takes feature yet remains a mystery.

This poem was born out of a request from Howard Pyle himself: after illustrating a deluxe edition of Markham’s The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems (Doubleday & McClure Company, 1900), Pyle asked the poet to write him “an autograph verse” which he could insert into an “especial” copy of the book. It was “especial” - and, in fact, unique - in that Pyle glued the original illustrations onto sheets of Whatman’s hot-pressed paper onto which the publisher - in part compensation for the work Pyle had done - had printed the poems. Pyle then bound the book with wooden covers and decorated them with his daughter Phoebe’s pyrography set.

Ultimately, “Art” appeared in Markham’s subsequent collection, Lincoln & Other Poems, published in 1901 by McClure, Phillips & Company - and not by Doubleday, Page & Company, the successor to Doubleday & McClure, which had dissolved even before The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems was published (although the name still appeared on the title-age and spine). A chagrined Frank Nelson Doubleday, wrote on the flyleaf of an office copy of The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems, "This edition was made to please the author and get his next book. It did neither."

And after trying to sell his unique copy of The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems, Howard Pyle - in the words of Gertrude Brincklé - “lost interest in it and had it torn up.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

“The best engraver in the world is Mr. French”

The Yale Club bookplate by Howard Pyle, 1905 (engraved by Edwin Davis French)

“I have long admired your very admirable work, and have lost no opportunity of speaking of it to my friends, I am glad that my small efforts in that direction have brought about such results as the Bibliophile bookmark [sic], and the book-plate of the Yale Club.”

So said Howard Pyle in a letter to Edwin Davis French, written on December 11, 1905. Pyle had just completed a bookplate design for Edith Kermit Roosevelt - Teddy’s wife - and was hoping to get French to engrave it. He had said in a letter to her, “I think the best engraver in the world is Mr French. If he cuts this for you you will have a treasure that will always be a joy to you, for his work is as good as it is possible to be.” French, however, was unavailable for a few months, so Pyle got Sidney L. Smith to do the work instead.

I confess I don’t know what Pyle meant by “the Bibliophile bookmark.” Pyle’s drawings and paintings for the Bibliophile Society were photo-engraved, or etched by W. H. W. Bicknell. French did, however, engrave Pyle’s second bookplate for The Players Club in 1894.

The Players Club bookplate by Howard Pyle, 1894 (engraved by Edwin Davis French)

I think this is Pyle’s least successful bookplate design. I blame him for an awkward conception more than French for faulty engraving, although French seems to have blamed himself for its defects. It was, I understand, only his second such commission and Pyle’s “exquisitely delicate wash-drawing” - as French called it - “at the time seemed to me (and indeed I fear it proved to be) quite too formidable an undertaking for a plate-engraver of my limited experience.”

Perhaps the original art will turn up one of these days and we’ll be able to judge for ourselves.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Elihu Vedder Calls on Howard Pyle, December 10, 1910

On December 10, 1910, Elihu Vedder, the American artist and longtime resident of Italy, called on Howard Pyle at the Grand Continental Hotel in Rome.

But Pyle couldn’t see him: after dinner that day he had had an attack that spurred the family to fetch a doctor. His lingering illness, punctuated by sharp abdominal pains, pretty much confined him to his rooms: in fact, during his week-long stay in Rome, he ventured out only twice - and one of those times was so he could be x-rayed for kidney stones or gallstones.

Gertrude Brincklé and Phoebe Pyle went downstairs to meet Vedder in Pyle’s stead. Miss Brincklé wrote of the encounter the next day:
Elihu Vedder, the first personage whom we have seen abroad, came to call on Mr. Pyle last night, and Phoebe and I “received” him. He does not look at all like an artist, any more than Mr. Pyle does! He is a fat elderly man with a wondrous black worsted knitted vest, and a small brown skull-cap, and he talks a great deal about his book, apparently an autobiography or memoirs, of which both Phoebe and I were entirely ignorant.
Just a few weeks before Vedder’s visit, Houghton, Mifflin and Company had published his autobiography, The Digressions of V - in which Pyle gets only a passing mention (but waht else is new?).

Apparently, Pyle had known Vedder since the late 1870s. So far, though, I can put them in same place at the same time only once: on November 8, 1894, the two dined with Laurence and Eleanor Hutton at their house at 229 West 34th Street in Manhattan. A couple of days afterward Pyle spoke of “poor old Mr Vedder!” to Mrs. Hutton, “I suppose he enjoys his Italian life but isn’t it dreadful? Think of having to live in an atmosphere of art forever with no let up of nature and simplicity.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Howard Pyle Arrives in Italy, December 7, 1910

The Sant’ Anna in Naples

In the rain and before dawn on December 7, 1910, the Sant’ Anna, carrying Howard Pyle, his family, and his secretary, Gertrude Brincklé, landed at Naples, Italy.

Pyle had already been unwell for several days and considered staying over in the port city, but, according to Miss Brincklé, he woke that morning “with light of determination in his eye” and decided to continue on to Florence as planned.

Fortunately, they met a Wilmington acquaintance, a Mr. Gawthrop, whose friend, Mr. Montefredini, helped get them through customs and onto a northbound train. After dark that same day, they arrived in Rome. But Pyle was unable to travel any further, so they found rooms at the Grand Continental Hotel, just opposite the Stazione di Termini.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Red Cross Christmas Stamp, 1908

Did you know that Howard Pyle - at the request of his friend and fellow Wilmingtonian, Emily Perkins Bissell - designed the first nationally distributed Christmas seal? (The first seal, of 1907, was designed by Miss Bissell herself and was more of a Delaware-centric affair.) The Report of the Seventh International Tuberculosis Conference, Philadelphia, 24th-26th of September 1908 (Berlin-Charlottenburg, Internationale Vereinigung gegen die Tuberkulose, 1909) stated:
The Christmas Stamp in red and green, which this year has been kindly designed by the artist, Mr. Howard Pyle, will be sold for the benefit of the Red Cross anti-tuberculosis work. The little stamps do not carry mail, but with the good wishes that they bear to the friend on whose letter or gift you may place them, they will carry also some of the Christmas cheer to many sorrying homes, where the terrible scourge of tuberculosis now holds its sway.
These so-called “bullets in the fight against tuberculosis” cost a penny a piece and by mid-November 1908, seven million copies of Pyle’s stamp had already been ordered.

For some more historical background, take a look at this from Harper’s Weekly for December 5, 1908:
The Red Cross Christmas Stamp

The Christmas stamp which the American Red Cross is selling this year as part of its active campaign against tuberculosis, was invented in Denmark, where, in 1904, the Danish government issued a similar stamp with the King's head and the word “yule” on it, not good for postage, but to stick on Christmas letters, postal cards, and packages.

The Danish stamp was issued to raise funds to build a tuberculosis hospital for children. Jacob Riis wrote a piece about it [see The Outlook for July 6, 1907] and tried to get a similar stamp issued by our government. That proved impracticable, but last year the Delaware Red Cross issued a Christmas stamp and sold about 400,000 of them. That considerable success led the National Red Cross to make a wholesale experiment this year. Howard Pyle designed a stamp, and it is to see how many can be sold between Thanksgiving and New-year's. The purpose is as much to advertise the work against consumption, and educate and interest the public in it, as to raise funds. The stamps will be supplied to buyers and sellers from the Red Cross headquarters in each State, but the distribution will be well attended to, and the Christmas stamp is likely to be a very conspicuous feature of the coming holidays.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Howard Pyle Misses the Mark?

The latest incarnation of the Autobiography of Mark Twain has been getting a lot of press. I don’t hold out much hope that Samuel L. Clemens’s “private” thoughts on Howard Pyle will be revealed therein or in subsequent volumes. In fact, I doubt that his thoughts would prove much different than the comments he made directly to Pyle or to his publisher. And even though they had many mutual friends and acquaintances (W. D. Howells and Albert Bigelow Paine, in particular), the two probably didn’t linger long enough in each other’s company for Clemens to form an opinion of Pyle the man.

As yet, I can only place these two in the same room at the same time at Mark Twain’s 67th birthday party hosted by George Harvey. Subsequently, Pyle was invited to the 70th birthday - Harvey’s even larger publicity stunt, held on December 5, 1905 - but he couldn’t attend. In sending his regrets to Clemens, Pyle wrote that “it is not often that a fellow craftsman can have it to say that in nearly half a century of work he should never have written any words that were not pure, and kind, and free of malice toward any of his fellow-creatures.”

Reviews of the autobiography, however, make Pyle sound pretty naive - or just hyperbolic and polite. In Slate, for instance, Judith Shulevitz says,
...this volume is punctuated by uncomic riffs - I believe they are meant to be funny - that quickly degenerate into furious rants, usually about former business partners who had grievously cheated Twain. The unvarnished truth about Twain/Clemens turns out to be his unvarnished rage.

Or, “When in Doubt, Leave It Out”

“...it is better to err in the lack of detail than it is to introduce details that may arouse question or criticism...”
Howard Pyle to Paul Leicester Ford, November 30, 1898

Monday, November 29, 2010

From “The Lady of Shalott”

A very early full-color illustration by Howard Pyle for Alfred Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, published by Dodd, Mead & Company - and copyrighted and deposited on this day in 1881.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

At Mark Twain’s Birthday Party, 1902

Last year I wished Mark Twain a happy 174th birthday. And 108 years ago tonight Howard Pyle and 52 other men wished him a happy 67th birthday. The New York Times reported on it the next day:
Mark Twain’s sixty-seventh birthday, which falls on Sunday, was celebrated at the Metropolitan Club last night by a dinner given in his honor by Col. George Harvey, editor of Harper’s Weekly and The North American Review, and President of Harper & Brothers, publishers. It was attended by fifty-three guests, most of them prominent in the literary world.

Mark Twain may or may not have read the notices of his demise which certain newspaper paragraphers have from time to time inserted in their papers prematurely as an excuse for the perpetration of a real or imagined witticism, but last night he laughingly listened while John Kendrick Bangs read a long obituary of him in rhyme and rhythm.

Mr. Howells read a sonnet in which he referred to a number of incidents in Mark Twain’s life, and particularly the article the humorist wrote on foreign missionaries. The other speakers were Chauncey M. Depew, Dr. Henry Van Dyke, Col. George Harvey, W. D. Howells, Hamilton W. Mabie, Thomas B. Reed, Wayne MacVeagh, and Mr. Clemens.
Here is the complete list of 54 attendees (I can connect Pyle personally or professionally to about two dozen of them, but will spare you):

Henry Mills Alden
John W. Alexander
James Lane Allen
John Kendrick Bangs
August Belmont
Samuel Bowles
George Washington Cable
Will Carleton
Robert W. Chambers
Dumont Clarke
Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Chauncey Depew
Frederick A. Duneka
Charles Froham
Hamlin Garland
Richard Watson Gilder
Will N. Harben
Henry S. Harper
J. Henry Harper
George Harvey
John Hay
William Dean Howells
Roy Rolfe Gilson
Thomas L. Janvier
Adrian Joline
John Larkin
Richard le Gallienne
William M. Laffan
W. B. Leeds
Frederick T. Leigh
Hamilton Wright Mabie
James MacArthur
Wayne MacVeagh
St. Clair McKelway
David A. Munro
William A. Nash
Adolph S. Ochs
Daniel O’Day
Howard Pyle
Thomas Bracket Reed
Dr. C. C. Rice
Henry H. Rogers
Thomas F. Ryan
Hamblen Sears
Ernest Thompson Seton
Francis Hopkinson Smith
Henry L. Stodard
Van Tassel Sutphen
Booth Tarkington
E. W. Townsend
Reverend J. H. Twichell
Henry Van Dyke
Horace White
George W. Young

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pyle’s Art Students’ League Students?

Here is another news item about Howard Pyle’s Art Students’ League lectures and critiques of 1904-05. This one comes from the International Studio:
The Art Students' League has been fortunate enough to obtain the services of Mr. Howard Pyle for the coming winter. His class will not be of the usual academic order, as Mr. Pyle particularly wishes to help young artists as well as students. The course will consist of a series of critical lectures on Composition, the class meeting on alternate Saturdays and lasting two hours, from four to six o'clock. The first hour there will be a general talk on composition, and the second hour will be devoted to criticising the work of those who pass Mr. Pyle's standard. The less advanced pupils will, however, have the benefit of his criticisms as well as his lectures. The first lecture will be held on Saturday, December 3. The tuition fee for this class will be $2.00 a month.
This arrangement was very much like the one Pyle had during his first year as an instructor at the Drexel Institute in 1894-95. What puzzles me is that there were plenty of League members and artists who attended these lectures and had their work criticized by Pyle, but unless they subsequently went to Wilmington for further Pylean guidance they do not appear on the many lists of Pyle students that have been assembled over the years. On the other hand, even those who had only fleeting contact with Pyle at the Drexel Institute (or in Wilmington, for that matter) are considered Pyle students.

But Pyle himself looked on those he instructed in New York as his students - at least if what he wrote to Hugo Ballin on March 8, 1905, is any indication: “I have a few pupils at home and abroad to whom I like to apply when I find myself in need of help, and you see I include you in that limited category.” The American Art News of March 25, 1905, also said, “Mr. Pyle was especially interested in the compositions of Hugo Ballin and Remington Schuyler; their work he considers to be of great promise.” As far as I know, however, Ballin has been conspicuously absent from the “Pyle student” rolls - and I don’t think he’s an isolated case.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Howard Pyle Lectures at the Art Students’ League

“It has just been announced at the Art Students' League that Howard Pyle will give a series of lectures on Composition, every other Saturday, from 4 to 6. The lectures are open to all students on payment of a small fee, but those wishing to put compositions up for criticism must first submit a sample of their work.”
The American Art News, November 26, 1904

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Howard Pyle’s Early Turkey

In honor of Thanksgiving, I serve up Howard Pyle’s earliest known turkey.

It also happens to be his earliest known illustration for a national (as opposed to a local) publication: namely, St. Nicholas for November 1875. That honor used to belong to his two pictures for his poem, “The Magic Pill,” which appeared in Scribner’s Monthly for July 1876. (Of course, the poem itself remains the first-known nationally published bit of writing by Pyle.)

Somehow, though - and just like his 1871 drawing for Every Evening’s masthead - Pyle neglected to mention this piece when writing or being interviewed about his early life: perhaps because it had little impact on his nascent career (at least compared to “The Magic Pill” and his Chincoteague article) and perhaps because Pyle considered himself more a writer than an illustrator at that time.

When Paul Preston Davis (while compiling his exhaustive bibliography) first showed me the drawing in 2002, I didn’t think it was a bona fide Pyle. Why would St. Nicholas publish such a crude thing? Granted, it illustrated a poem, “The Reformer,” by Pyle’s own mother, but, still, I figured she probably wrote the poem for the picture, which was probably just a “recycled cut” - the kind which filled so many magazines in the 1870s and which accompanied the bulk of Pyle’s mother’s writings for children.

However, my skepticism gradually eroded: the drawing did, after all, resemble those for “The Magic Pill.” Even so, I wanted more proof. The drawing was unsigned and absent from the magazine’s bound volumes and indices, but, finally, when I inspected a copy of the November 1875 issue in its original wrappers, I was happy to see that Pyle was indeed credited in the table of contents.

So I gather mother and son submitted poem and picture as a package deal. And although within a year St. Nicholas was accepting Howard’s writings and illustrations, nothing by Margaret Pyle ever again appeared in that magazine. Sadly, too, she didn’t live to see their only other known collaboration, “Hugo Grotius and His Book Chest,” published in Harper’s Young People for March 15, 1887.

Incidentally, according to Every Evening, at the sixth-annual reunion picnic of the Friends’ Social Lyceum on June 26, 1875, “Mrs. M. C. Pyle read a very amusing poem, poking fun at fussy reformers” - no doubt the same poem her son illustrated.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Howard Pyle’s Sketch Club

On November 24, 1902, Allen Tupper True wrote home to his father:
…Mr. Pyle’s latest innovation is a “Sketch Club” to meet once a week when we and he can get together around a long table in his studio for a “stag” evening. The event of the evening is to be an impromptu pen and ink composition the subject for which will be assigned just before commencing. Mr. Pyle is to sketch too and his idea seems to be that he shall be one of a jolly crowd for one evening a week. We will have beer, ginger ale and good tobacco which in this case do not mean as coarse as an affair as you might think.…
Pyle’s “innovation” was something he resurrected from his time in New York in the late 1870s - from the Salmagundi Sketch Club, in particular.

The compositional subject was just a word or phrase - “Idiocy,” “The End,” “The Conquerer,” “The Challenge” - and after it was assigned (or, perhaps, drawn from a hat, etc.) the artists would draw and eat and drink and talk and smoke.

Just imagine the groups that assembled each week or so in 1902-03: N. C. Wyeth, William J. Aylward, Philip R. Goodwin, Arthur Becher, George Harding, Allen True, Clifford Ashley, Henry Peck, Thornton Oakley, et al.... And the artist whose impromptu creation was deemed best would go home with Howard Pyle’s drawing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

“Mr. Howard Pyle...departed yesterday”


For a long stay in Italy, where he will have a studio in Florence, Mr. Howard Pyle, an American painter and illustrator, departed yesterday with Mrs. Pyle and their daughters, Misses Phoebe and Eleanor, and Master Wilfred [sic] Pyle, on board the Sant’ Anna, of the Fabre line. Mr. Pyle has just closed his art school in Wilmington, Del.

“I have commissions which will take up my time abroad,” said Mr. Pyle.
The New York Herald, November 23, 1910

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bon Voyage, Howard Pyle

One hundred years ago today, Howard Pyle took an early train from Wilmington to Hoboken, then a ferry around Lower Manhattan to the Fabre Line docks in Brooklyn, and at 1.00 p.m. (or maybe 12.17?) he sailed away on the Sant’Anna, pictured here.

Years later, his student Harvey Dunn recalled, “When we stood on the R.R. station platform at six o’clock the morning he and his family left he looked out over the city of his birth and his labors he held my arm in a strong grip as he said, ‘Write to me, Dunn’ and I know he didn’t want to go at all, somehow, and would never come back.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

“Pyle’s illustrations for my poem are lovely

“...Pyle’s illustrations for my poem are lovely in the Wide Awake...”
From the diary of Edmund Clarence Stedman, November 21, 1887

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Howard Pyle and A Peculiar People

“The Kloster” by Howard Pyle, 1880

The following is part of a letter Howard Pyle, then in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, wrote to Anne Poole, his fiancée, on November 19, 1880:

Bur-r-r-ruh! but it was cold today. I managed to potter along tolerably well in the morning, sitting in the sun and sketching the old buildings of the Cloister. But when I undertook in the afternoon to go around and get another view, sitting in the shade, I had to resign. I worked along for some time with stiff fingers and chilled bones, but when I got to painting and the water I was using froze in little cakes all over the picture, I absolutely could not go on. I would have stuck at it in spite of chilled fingers if it had not been for that.

…I went in to warm my hands and the strict head sister took them into her own puffy palms in the most motherly way, saying with a surprised air “dey is golt,” just as if it were a land of Egypt out in the shadow of the woodshed. I thought it a good time to bone her again about having her picture taken, but she still firmly declined in Pennsylvania Dutch.…

As I could do no more at the buildings I went over to see my ancient friend Pfautz. I showed him the sketch I had made and he was interested. Then I asked him to sit for his picture. Here his daughter put in her word, objecting most strongly. I think the old man rather liked the idea. He had the queerest old trousers that might have been worn by Noah anterior to his cruise - yellow with age and patched with parti-colored remnants - oh! so picturesque! His daughter thought it would be ungodly to have his picture taken. I thought she meant ungodly for me to draw it. “I’ll take the responsibility,” I said. “You better be responsible for yourself,” said she, “one soul ought to be enough for you.” Then I quoted Scripture and she answered with twice as much. Then I appealed to the old man. “She will scoldt me,” said he, “and make it onpleasant.” To make a long story short I finally prevailed, provided I would not sketch more than his head.

This was not exactly what I wanted, but half a loaf is better than no bread, so I acceded to this stipulation.

The old man followed me out of the house when I was done. “Vas you going to publish that in Harper’s Weekly?” said he.

Harper’s Monthly, if you will let me. I hope you won’t object.”

“Ho-no-no,” said he - then after a pause, “but don’t tell my daughter.”

“Oh no.”

Again he hesitated. “You’ll put my name, won’t you?”

“Why I don’t know.”

“I t’inks you petter - ain’t my name’s John B. Pfautz. John Bauer Pfautz - aigh? (with a rising inflection). And you might send me one of the papers - aigh?”…

“My Cicerone” (portrait of John Bauer Pfautz) by Howard Pyle, 1880

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Battle of “The Battle of Bunker Hill”

On November 18, 1897, Howard Pyle wrote to Joseph Hawley Chapin, Art Editor of Scribner’s Magazine:
…I send you today the Bunker Hill picture. It is quite carefully studied, and I think, excepting the portraiture which of course has to be idealized, it is a correct view of the battle.…

The ship of war firing in the distance is the Lively. In the remoter distance I have represented Copp’s Hill with the boat yard at the foot of the hill as nearly as I could represent it from the maps of the period. The smoke arising from the remoter distance is being discharged from a fortification upon Copp’s Hill. Charlestown lies back of the hill and the black smoke arising is from the burning houses.…
It’s worth noting that this description formed the basis of the caption for “The Battle of Bunker Hill” when it was printed in Scribner’s Magazine for February 1898, illustrating the second installment of Henry Cabot Lodge’s The Story of the Revolution:
The scene represents the second attack and is taken from the right wing of the Fifty-second Regiment, with a company of grenadiers in the foreground. The left wing of the regiment, under command of the major, has halted, and is firing a volley; the right wing is just marching past to take its position for firing. The ship-of-war firing from the middle distance is the Lively; in the remoter distance is the smoke from the battery on Copp’s Hill. The black smoke to the right is from the burning houses of Charlestown.
According to some notes taken during a 1949 conversation between Frank Schoonover and Gertrude Brincklé:
When Mr. Pyle was collecting information and ideas for this painting he wrote to the Admiralty office in London for details about the real formation in the battle, but got very little information. He made the composition from what they told him, and from his own imagination. At first the drummers were marching on the right side, and then he put them in the rear where they are now.
The version seen here was also Pyle’s second try: he was unhappy after a week’s work on the first, so he slashed the canvas with a sword. And then he painted this one in four days.

Charles Scribner’s Sons was impressed enough with Pyle’s “Battle of Bunker Hill” and “Fight on Lexington Common” to consider reproducing them - and the other ten pictures he was contracted to do - in color and selling them by subscription. This never panned out. But the publisher did decide to send an exhibition of illustrations for The Story of the Revolution around the country while the history was being serialized - a canny promotional stunt.

Pyle balked. He told Joe Chapin on December 30, 1897, that “to exhibit my pictures in their present partially finished state would, in my opinion, be injurious to them and to me, and that I am accordingly compelled to lay aside my other work and to retouch them whether I choose to do so or not.” However, he conceded - under protest - in the same letter.

But Pyle wasn’t being entirely frank, and a few days later he confided to Charles Scribner II: “It may not be a probability, but at least it is a very strong possibility that this set of pictures, when completed, may be purchased by the Congressional Library Committee, to be hung in the Library Building in Washington.” Pyle was worried, though, that key government officials would see his “unfinished” works on display and deem them unworthy of so high-profile a home as the Library of Congress. He was also concerned that showing “The Battle of Bunker Hill” as is in Boston might jeopardize his chances for a commission to paint a mural on the same topic for the Massachusetts State House. He explained, “The picture was sent to you very hastily and in an unfinished state, because of the demand of the Magazine to have it in the Art Department by a certain given date. I was aware that it was crude in its effect and unfinished in all of its details - but had no idea that it was so crude in color as it proved to be when I saw it again and with fresh eyes.”

In the end, Pyle indeed tweaked “The Battle of Bunker Hill” somewhat: compare, for example, the clouds in the magazine plate (in black and white, above) and the original (in color, below). Ultimately, however, for all his hand-wringing and the efforts of his friends with influence, both the Washington and Boston schemes collapsed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Howard Pyle Didn’t Sleep Here

But Howard Pyle did eat a meal and write a letter here. Where? Why, the Mount Vernon House, run by Zephaniah Undercuffler in Ephrata, Pennsylvania - 130 years ago today. As he complained to his fiancée, Anne Poole, who was back home in Wilmington:
...You see where I am (Ephrata) - and the name spelled right thanks to being printed. But I am not going to stay here - oh no! I am going back to Lancaster tonight. And I am going to stay in Lancaster and am going to get one meal at least in Lancaster. The unpronounceable proprietor of this Mount Vernon House told me today that this was a Dutch house, kept in Dutch style, and that I must help myself accordingly, which I did, to fat pork, turnips, diminutive sweet potatoes, dried peaches, and an indescribable pie, but oh my! - never mind, I won’t say anything about my poor stomach just here.… I am going back to Lancaster tonight, as I said, for dear only knows what the German bed may be....
A day or so earlier, Pyle had arrived in the area to begin gathering data on the religious community of “Dunkers” for a Harper’s Monthly article. A few months later, Scribner’s Monthly (soon to be re-christened The Century) perhaps unwittingly dispatched two artists to Ephrata to illustrate a similar piece for that magazine. Joseph Pennell, one of the two artists, later recalled:
We went at the drawings with fury, but, to our horror, we found that Howard Pyle had been there, for he had left behind an unfinished drawing which was preserved in the hotel. We said nothing, but worked harder and faster, fearing that any month Pyle’s article might appear in Harper's and ours never be printed... and, though we trembled every month when Harper’s was announced, we came out in The Century years before he did in Harper’s.
Indeed, “A Colonial Monastery” by Oswald W. Seidensticker, illustrated by Pennell and Henry Rankin Poore, came out in December 1881. But Pyle’s “A Peculiar People” only appeared in October 1889.

Above is one of the pictures that Pyle didn’t leave behind (at the Mount Vernon House, I mean). And rightly so. It’s called “The Kiss of Peace” and again shows the sort of “transitional” drawing style that Pyle employed in the early 1880s and which I’ve pointed out here and here and here. It could almost pass as a drypoint.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Return from Deerfield

“The Return from Deerfield” by Howard Pyle, 1897

The town of Deerfield, Massachusetts, came up in conversation recently and it prompted me to exhume this picture from my files. Howard Pyle painted “The Return from Deerfield” for Volume I of A Half-Century of Conflict, included in France and England in North America, Part Sixth, which formed Volume XI of the The Works of Francis Parkman (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1897).

The original 14 x 24" oil (in part color) belongs to the University of Delaware. And here is a blurry photo of the same (swiped from UD’s website, with apologies) if only to give some idea of Pyle’s use of red in the cap, robe, kerchief, etc. and the “colder” overall feel of the piece, which is lost in the warm browns and yellows of the photogravure.

The calm demeanor of the standing figure always puzzled me: I guess because I was misreading the title as “The Return to Deerfield.” But in finally bothering to read the chapter Pyle illustrated, I now understand that it shows the French and Native American forces marching back to Canada after raiding the village and taking a number of villagers captive. The detail of the standing figure’s collar indicates that he is the cold-blooded Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville, who commanded the attack in the winter of 1704. The woman at his snowshoed feet is Eunice, wife of the Reverend John Williams. As Parkman says:
The prisoners were the property of those who had taken them. Williams had two masters; one of the three who had seized him having been shot in the attack on the house of Stebbins. His principal owner was a surly fellow who would not let him speak to the other prisoners; but as he was presently chosen to guard the rear, the minister was left in the hands of his other master, who allowed him to walk beside his wife and help her on the way. Having borne a child a few weeks before, she was in no condition for such a march, and felt that her hour was near. Williams speaks of her in the strongest terms of affection. She made no complaint, and accepted her fate with resignation. “We discoursed,” he says, “of the happiness of those who had God for a father and friend, as also that it was our reasonable duty quietly to submit to His will.” Her thoughts were for her remaining children, whom she commended to her husband’s care. Their intercourse was short. The Indian who had gone to the rear of the train soon returned, separated them, ordered Williams to the front, “and so made me take a last farewell of my dear wife, the desire of my eyes and companion in many mercies and afflictions.” They came soon after to Green River, a stream then about knee-deep, and so swift that the water had not frozen. After wading it with difficulty, they climbed a snow-covered hill beyond. The minister, with strength almost spent, was permitted to rest a few moments at the top; and as the other prisoners passed by in turn, he questioned each for news of his wife. He was not left long in suspense. She had fallen from weakness in fording the stream, but gained her feet again, and, drenched in the icy current, struggled to the farther bank, when the savage who owned her, finding that she could not climb the hill, killed her with one stroke of his hatchet. Her body was left on the snow till a few of her townsmen, who had followed the trail, found it a day or two after, carried it back to Deerfield, and buried it in the churchyard.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 14, 1904

“To illustrate requires a subjugating of oneself and that is the very best kind of a drill for an artist. For all know that true Art can flourish only when all thought of self is banished and the mind free to follow Truth.”
Howard Pyle as quoted by Ethel Pennewill Brown and Olive Rush, November 14, 1904

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Who (or Which) Shall Be Captain?

“I think that pirate duel is the most terrific thing I ever saw. I had almost all the sensations I have enjoyed at a prize fight. Oh if I were only a pluto I’d have that in the middle of my shack and when I wanted to be lifted out of the dreary run of existence I would take a look. As I grow older and colder I do not fail to remember that fighting - drinking and the women are after all the big primitive sensations - everything else is B. Flat.”

So said Frederic Remington in a letter to Howard Pyle, written on November 13, 1908. “Who Shall Be Captain?” was one of thirty Pyle works then on display at the Macbeth Gallery in New York City. Harper and Brothers had the right to reproduce it, but they didn’t exercise that right for a couple of years: the picture appeared, at last, in the January 1911 Harper’s Monthly along with a poem called “The Buccaneers” by Don C. Seitz - and with the title tweaked to read “Which Shall Be Captain?” It also went by the name “The Fight on the Sands” at the Harper offices, according to Pyle.

The Delaware Art Museum now owns the original 32 x 48" oil on canvas. And, incidentally, the treasure chest was painted “from life” and can be seen in photos of Pyle’s studio; he bought it on one of his trips to Jamaica and then Thornton Oakley bought it at Pyle’s estate sale in 1912 (and rumor has it that it’s now in the vicinity of Chadds Ford).

I’ve always been of two minds about this picture: while it’s nicely painted, the exaggerated expressions of the onlookers - the cartoon scowls and goofily popping eyes - don’t sit well with me, and I find the composition more static than dramatic. Then again, if I were only a pluto I’d have it in the middle of my shack, too.

Friday, November 12, 2010

November 12, 1899

In the court of the [Drexel] Institute were displayed last week four historical paintings by Howard Pyle, of which “Jefferson Framing the Constitution” was one. They are all painted in the low tones Mr. Pyle invariably employs, and they are finished with the same conscientious thoroughness. Mr. Pyle is almost the only artist living who can finish a picture to the last detail and yet lose nothing of its artistic value. (The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 12, 1899)
Shown here is the engraving of the work as it appeared in Scribner’s Magazine for March 1898. So much for the “low tones.” But you can see what it should look like via the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies. The original painting (about 24 x 36") is at the Delaware Art Museum.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wasn’t quite right about the title, especially since Jefferson didn’t frame the Constitution. It’s rightfully called “Thomas Jefferson Writing the Declaration of Independence” and illustrated “The Story of the Revolution” by Henry Cabot Lodge.

In order to capture the effect of candlelight - and still see what he was doing - Pyle placed his model in a tent set up in his studio. He most likely painted this in late November 1897.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 11, 1911

Two days after Howard Pyle died, muralist Edwin Howland Blashfield eulogized him in a letter to their mutual friend, architect Cass Gilbert:
Nov 11 1911

Dear Mr Gilbert

I was shocked to hear of Howard Pyle’s death and very very sorry too for I think he had before him years of work and I believe that his European trip would have put even more of interest into his beautiful talent. His canvas in the State Capitol of Minnesota is the finest battle-piece I’ve ever seen except that of the Bourget by De Neuville (which latter depends largely on its episodical quality).

His death is a very great loss


Edwin H Blashfield

I wish I had known him better
[The letter comes from the Cass Gilbert Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 10, 1894

The following notes were written by Bertha Corson Day during Howard Pyle’s sixth lecture on illustration at the Drexel Institute, November 10, 1894:

Finish your work - but do not labor it

Begin finishing on the eyes of the principal figure

Study proportion*

Avoid giving a brand new look to things

In sunlight exaggerate the simplicity of effects

Avoid copying the strained expression of the face of the model

Strength is not produced by strong contrasts

[* Pyle specifically recommended the textbooks of Bertram Windle - no doubt his The Proportions of the Human Body (1892) - and another writer, whose name I have yet to decipher.]

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Where Did Howard Pyle Die?

Unlike Howard Pyle’s place of birth, his place of death is not in dispute. It happened in the building shown here - 6 Via Garibaldi in Florence, Italy - at 4.30 a.m. on Thursday, November 9, 1911. A Pyle descendant has a copy of this photo, marked to show the precise location: the room with the lighter window (as opposed to the two darker windows) on the top floor.

On New Year’s Day of 1911, Pyle had described the family’s then new Florentine apartment to Stanley Arthurs and Frank Schoonover:
The rooms are very comfortable, and the house is one that was occupied by Lord Byron when he was here in Florence. We are in the third story of the house, which is not nearly so fashionable as the second, but it suits us admirably. The rooms all open out upon a passage-way, and the passage is reached by a flight of stone steps from the street which are really quite shut off from the apartments excepting for an entrance door with the locks and bolts of a prison.
Pyle’s daughter Phoebe felt a bit overwhelmed by the “tawdry magnificence” of the furnishings, but Pyle grew to enjoy the apartment in particular and the city in general. “It seems like home,” he wrote that September. “There is no turmoil there, and no upheaval, and if there is sickness there is a comfortable place to be.”

The two lower floors of the place were occupied for some years by another American, Dr. Charles Riggs Parke, who became, wrote Pyle, “one of the closest of my friends” and “my regular physician here in Florence.” But in a world without antibiotics, the doctor was no match for the Bright’s Disease (or uric acid poisoning?) which doomed his upstairs neighbor.

99 Years Gone

Monday, November 8, 2010

November 8, 1895

Last year I wrote about how Howard Pyle altered his painting “The Burial of Braddock” after it was first published in magazine and book form in 1896 and before it was sent to its new (and present) owner, the Boston Public Library, in 1897. Now, here’s a little something written on this day 115 years ago about the origins of the same work...

And in case Woodrow Wilson’s handwriting is difficult to read, here is a transcription:
Everett House, Union Square, New York.

8 Nov., 1895

My dear Mr. Pyle,

Your last letter came just as I was leaving home, and I had to bring it off with me to find time for an answer.

You will notice that Washington in his account of Braddock’s death says “near the Great Meadows,” careful Mr. Parkman says exactly the same, writing before the publication of W’s account. It would not be safe, I think, to take the picture of Braddock’s grave as a picture of Great Meadows. [Colonel Thomas] Dunbar’s camp at the time of B’s death was, I should judge, between Gist’s and Great Meadows, nearer the latter than the former. See map opposite page 438 of Winsor’s “Mississippi Basin,” on which Gist’s is called “Guests.”

In haste,

Cordially Yours,

Woodrow Wilson

Mr. Howard Pyle
Wilson, by the way, was writing from Everett House, a hotel on the north side of Union Square, at the corner of Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue South) and 17th Street, right next to The Century Company - a fragment of which can be seen on the left side of this photo of the hotel from the Museum of the City of New York. The hotel was pulled down in 1908, but The Century offices (which Pyle visited somewhat frequently in connection with his work for St. Nicholas and The Century Magazine, etc.) are now home to a Barnes and Noble store.

[Note of November 8, 2013: I added a few details and links since first posting this]

At the Quill and Grill Club, November 8, 1883

Howard Pyle belonged to many clubs and associations over the years: some well-known - like the Grolier, the Players, and the Century - and a few more obscure. For example, Pyle was a founding member of the Quill and Grill Club, formed on August 17, 1883, in Wilmington, Delaware. It was composed mostly of journalists and lawyers, including some of Pyle’s intimates, such as Alfred Leighton Howe (to whom Pyle dedicated Within the Capes), Lewis C. Vandegrift (dedicatee of The Rose of Paradise and later Pyle’s neighbor), and newspaperman Edward Noble Vallandigham (Pyle’s “esteemed friend of many years standing”).

Interestingly, another early member of the Quill and Grill was the legal scholar and future World Court Judge, John Bassett Moore, then in his early twenties. At an 1885 meeting of the club - held in Pyle’s studio - Moore read poem which was published in his Collected Papers (and once upon a time at the Library of Congress I managed to dig up and hold in my hand the original manuscript). That same year, Moore went to Washington to work under Secretary of State Thomas Francis Bayard (later Pyle’s friend and landlord).

Pyle created the invitation shown here in 1883 or, perhaps, 1884, judging from the style of the lettering and decorations.

At a meeting held on November 8, 1883, attorney Joseph A. Richardson read a poem (dedicated to Miss Elizabeth Shipley Bringhurst, later Mrs. John Galt Smith) entitled “The Evolution and Development of Q. and G.,” in which the club’s founders are humorously described, including this stanza on Howard Pyle:
One by nature has been gifted
With the power of creating
Shapes of most surpassing beauty
From musty tomes of ancient legend.
At his touch sprang into being
Sweet Elaine, Shalott’s fair lady,
Robin Hood, and all his fellows.
His cunning hand that raises
Forms of brave Colonial heroes
Damsels prim in olden costumes,
Cavaliers and burly Roundheads
Till they seem to breathe before us.
Trips off the tongue, no? But we should be grateful to have a relic such as this, which sheds light on how a young Howard Pyle was perceived by his friends.

Friday, November 5, 2010

November 5, 1881

"Suppose you let me take care of this young lady in future?" by Howard Pyle from Harper’s Weekly for November 5, 1881. It illustrates “John Paul” by an unknown author and shows yet another Pylean pen and ink technique - and an atypical one at that - as well as an atypically modern setting. It is of similar vintage and style to this drawing which I showed a while back. (Oh, and this one, too.)

November 5, 1889

A teeny, tiny (1.5 x 4.6"), untitled vignette from “Wisdom’s Wages and Folly’s Pay” by Howard Pyle. It debuted in the November 5, 1889, issue of Harper’s Young People and was later included in Twilight Land. It illustrates this passage:
When the cook saw what Babo had done he snatched up the rolling-pin, and made at him to pound his head to a jelly. But Babo jumped out of the window, and away he scampered, with the cook at his heels.
I scanned the piece at 300 dpi to make it easier to inspect the deft handiwork.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3, 1885

“The Children are sent to the Asylum.” I know how they feel. This lovely pen and ink (about 9 x 7.5") is typical post-Pepper-and-Salt-pre-Wonder-Clock Pyle. It made its one and only appearance in the November 3, 1885, issue of Harper's Young People, illustrating “The Book of Balbo” by Sherwood Ryse, the pseudonym of Alfred B. Starey, who was editor of the magazine at that time. After Starey died, Laurence Hutton (another Pyle friend) eulogized him in the pages of Harper’s Monthly (May 1894):
Harper’s Young People, although they did not know him, and perhaps never even heard his name, lost a good and faithful friend when Alfred B. Starey died last summer in New York. One who was long and intimately associated with him, in a professional as well as in a social way, can only say of him here, that he was as clean in morals as he was in intellect, that he won the respect and the confidence of all those with whom he was brought in contact, that no man of his years, or of his position, in his profession or out of it, was more sincerely liked or more deeply regretted, and that he never, in any society, said or did anything which his own sisters, or the Young People for whom he labored, might not have heard or seen.

The bound volume of the little magazine which he edited for seven years, and the first which has appeared since he passed away, is another and enduring stone in the monument which he helped to erect to himself. In Harper's Young People Mr. Starey put the very best of his life work. Although, of course, he did not die for it, he died in its service; and on every page, and in every line, it shows his critical instinct and his conscientious care.

November 3, 1878

Referring to this picture, Howard Pyle wrote to his mother on November 3, 1878:
The composition class at the [Art Students’] League still occupies much of my attention. The subject last week was “Zekle’s Courtship.” I did not make a composition myself, however, as I was quite busy last week working on a design “The Interior of a Fishing Shanty,” which took me all week, cost me something for models, and at which I did not make a princely fortune. Mr. [Charles] Parsons liked it, however, and that was some satisfaction.
It was published as “Interior of a Fishing Station” in the following June’s issue of Harper’s Monthly, and it illustrated Part II of his article, “A Peninsular Canaan,” born out of travels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore the previous summer.

November 3, 1906

On November 3, 1906, Basil King, author of “The Hanging of Mary Dyer,” wrote to Howard Pyle:
Permit me to thank you for the beautiful illustrations with which you have ennobled - the word is just - my little story of Mary Dyer, in the November issue of McClure’s. I cannot but feel that if I had only seen the illustrations first, I should have written a better tale. I have to thank you, too, and most sincerely, for the kind suggestions with regard to one or two details in the story, that were incorrect. It was the more important that Mary Dyer should come out of the prison with her hands unbound - as you represented her - from the fact that in the scene on the scaffold, which is absolutely historical, she is spoken of as though, at first, her hands were free. Until you pointed it out, I had not noticed the inconsistency in my own narrative. Again let me offer you my most genuine thanks.
The painting King refers to, "At her appearing the multitude was hushed, awed by that air she wore" (5 x 7.4" in the magazine, 21.5 x 30.5" in the flesh), has also gone by the more prosaic “Mary Dyer Being Led to The Scaffold.” According to my notes, George L. Dyer purchased it and its two companion paintings (both about 16 x 24") directly from Pyle. On October 31, 1921, the two companion paintings were stolen from a private residence in East Orange, New Jersey, and never recovered. This one, though, now belongs to the Newport Historical Society in Rhode Island.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Howard Pyle’s Mother Died 125 Years Ago Today

Margaret Churchman Painter Pyle, aged 57, died on November 2, 1885, at her home at 502 West 11th Street in Wilmington, Delaware. “Cancer of Stomach” was the cause of death, according to Dr. James A. Draper. This tribute appeared in Every Evening the next day:
The death of Mrs. Margaret C. Pyle will cause sincere and wide-spread grief and a social vacancy that cannot be filled. Years ago Mrs. Pyle became well-known for her literary ability and her able and helpful criticisms of Wilmington’s best amateur actors, and her parlors have year after year furnished the most enjoyable amateur dramatic entertainments in Wilmington. The culture of many of the best educated people in this city has been largely influenced by her work at the Friends’ Social Lyceum and similar literary gatherings, and by her most casual conversation. The loss sustained by the removal from our midst of an individuality like that of Mrs. Pyle cannot be estimated; it can only be felt.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cats, Witches, Pyle, and Holmes

And now here are two pen and inks that Howard Pyle made for “The Broomstick Train,” contained in the little leather volume, The One Hoss Shay, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company in 1891.

The drawing above is titled “They called the cats” and the one below is “They came - at their master’s call.” Pyle’s letters show that he made these two in June or July 1891.

“I think these are about as successful pen and inks as I have ever done,” he said of his work on the book in a letter of July 2. And of the pictures for “The Broomstick Train” in particular, he wrote on July 7, “there may be very little to show in the way of result, but I really put a considerable deal of care and thought upon them.... I am myself inclined to think that they are, perhaps, in some respects, the best of the three lots.” The two other “lots” being the title poem and “How the Old Horse Won the Bet.” All exhibit the almost nervous, yet confident handling we see here - a far cry from his much “slower” ink drawings of the 1880s.