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.