Saturday, April 3, 2010

Queen Esther, 1902

Readers of Scribner's Magazine for April 1902 must have been startled on seeing "Queen Esther inciting the Indians to Attack the Settlers at Wyoming." It's certainly one of Howard Pyle's spookier images.

It illustrates Alfred Mathews' article "A Story of Three States" and the original oil was exhibited in 1903 and '04, then went missing. I gather its palette is similar to that of its companion piece, "The Connecticut Settlers entering the Western Reserve" (now at the Brandywine River Museum): black, white, and red oils loosely painted over an umber imprimatura. An engraver touched up the halftone plate - particularly in the foreground, skirt, headdresses - making the reproduction surprisingly crisp. And the red is much more fiery than it is here (I can't figure out why my scans "dull down" when I save them for the web).

The "Wyoming" in the title doesn't refer to the state, but to the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania, site of a Revolutionary War battle (and massacre) in the Summer of 1778. A note on the plate states, "The figure to the right is [Joseph] Brant, and the white man is [Colonel John] Butler." Pyle probably worked from this image of Brant.


kev ferrara said...

This might help:

John Page said...

It seems possible Pyle may have been riffing on John Singer Sargent's "El Jaleo". The commanding figure center-stage, the line of figures behind and the dramatic lighting from below are shared by both paintings. Certainly this is the more disturbing, dramatic image.

Ian Schoenherr said...

Thanks for bringing that to my attention, John. It may very well be, though I don't think Pyle was much of a Sargent fan, having once described his work as "strident." Then again, there is a certain stridency to "Queen Esther."