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.