Sunday, October 31, 2010


Yet another witch by Howard Pyle - and surely one of my all-time favorites.

This was the headpiece for “Witchcraft” by Edmund Clarence Stedman in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, for December 1884. Editor Henry Mills Alden’s letters to Stedman allow us to date the creation of this picture with some accuracy: on May 20, 1884, Alden wrote, “The subject you propose is an especially attractive one. I think Pyle would do both pictures well; but as you will have the poems ready so soon, we will leave that matter to be determined afterward.” And on August 28, Alden wrote, “Last week the illustrations came in - i.e. the engravings. I send you proofs of these...” So Pyle must have painted this in June or July 1884 (well, plus or minus a few days into May and August). It was engraved by Thomas H. Heard.

The original has yet to surface - that is, if it exists at all: in the early morning of December 8, 1902, a fire swept through the home of William Charles Le Gendre in Mount Kisco, New York - and one of Pyle’s three black and white oil “Witchcraft” paintings was destroyed. Perhaps Pyle himself had given the work to Le Gendre, who was a friend and one of the illustrator’s roommates at 1267 Broadway in 1877-78.

The glowing eyes of the witch and the bleak landscape call to mind a scene from F. W. Murnau’s Faust (starting at about three minutes in - it still makes my hair stand on end).

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