Monday, January 31, 2011

“His niece had found him lying dead”

“His niece had found him lying dead” from the short story “A Life for a Life,” written and illustrated by Howard Pyle (Scribner’s Magazine, January 1900).

Morbid, but lovely - like many of Pyle’s best pictures. The “modern” setting is somewhat unusual, but we see here such Pylean tropes as the partially-obscured-body and something I’ve only just coined as “the paroxysmal hand.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On the Duomo di Milano, 1911

“I do not care very much for professional sightseeing, but while I was in Milan, the hotel being near the Cathedral, I went there to see it. It is my first sight of a real mediaeval cathedral, and it is certainly very noble and picturesque. The carved fretwork around the top looked like lace, and the ugly gargoyles around the sides, supported by rather nice caryatids add to the lacework effect. It was very splendid, and very large. I admired it extremely.”
Howard Pyle to Stanley M. Arthurs, January 25, 1911

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

“Is that Howard Pyle?”

Photograph of Howard Pyle taken between December 11, 1887, and January 18, 1888

In December 1887, Edwin Wilson Morse, editor of The Book Buyer (“A Summary of American and Foreign Literature” published by Charles Scribner’s Sons), asked Howard Pyle to send a photograph of himself for use in the magazine.

“It has been years since I have had one taken,” Pyle replied on December 11, “but spurred by the compliment of your request I will visit a gallery at the very earliest opportunity and send you the result as soon as I receive it.”

When exactly Pyle visited a photographer is not known, but we do know that it was a little before January 18, 1888, when he wrote to a Mrs. Dickinson of Wisconsin:
A long while ago - March of last year - you wrote me a letter asking me for my photograph and autograph. My neglect to answer immediately arose not from indifference toward your request but because I had had no photograph taken for so long a time that I felt a reluctance to having myself projected upon material card-board, fearing the result. At last, however, I have had it done and such as it is I send it to you. I imagen to myself the little ones looking at it far away in Wisconsin. “What!” they cry, “is that Howard Pyle? Why; he is bald! He is grey! and - yes - if one looks closely enough one finds lines at the corners of his eyes that the photographer has forgotten to obliterate with his pencil!”
The Book Buyer, meanwhile, had a wood-engraving made from the photo, which appeared in the October 1888 issue. It accompanied a brief biographical sketch of Pyle, all part of Scribner’s campaign to promote his Otto of the Silver Hand, which came out that November (not to mention his The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and Within the Capes). Later, Scribner advertised that artist’s proofs of the portrait could be had for twenty-five cents and “Special Artist’s Proofs on India Paper” for fifty cents.

Pyle liked this engraving. In a letter of August 12, 1892, he said to Frank Nelson Doubleday (who also asked Pyle for a picture of himself for use in another project): “I think the portrait that you used in the Book Buyer is about as good as any that I have had taken - I suppose because it flatters me not a little.” See for yourself...

Howard Pyle, engraved for The Book Buyer (October 1888)

And here’s the article from The Book Buyer...


Howard Pyle began his career as an author under somewhat unusual circumstances. A number of years ago he heard of an island off the coast of Virginia where a peculiar breed of ponies ran in a semi-wild state. He visited the place, and wrote a paper upon it which he sent to Scribner's Monthly.

Following the advice of friends, who saw in this article the promise of better things, Mr. Pyle came to New York, and began to work with both his pen and his pencil. He had inherited from his mother a taste for both art and literature; and she, being a large reader of lighter literature, and a critic of keen perceptions, cultivated and directed this taste, thus exerting a marked influence in the formation of her son's intellectual character.

After coming to New York Mr. Pyle did a considerable amount of work more or less obscure, until finally he caught the attention of his brother artists by a more serious drawing than any he had yet undertaken. This was called “Wreck in the Offing!” and represented the interior of a life-saving station of the old style. A fellow in oil-skins and sou’wester has just flung open the door, in a gust of wind and rain, and shouts to his companions the startling words which form the title of the picture. This drawing was published as a double-page engraving in Harper’s Weekly, and brought Mr. Pyle at once into prominence.

Of late Mr. Pyle has been directing his attention more and more to book-making, writing and illustrating his own stories, and bringing all parts of the book into the closest harmony with the spirit of the tale. Being something of a bibliophilist, Mr. Pyle finds the creating of books to be, without question, his most congenial occupation. He has rarely painted for exhibition. The first book in which his skill as a story-teller and his talents as an illustrator became conjointly apparent was “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood,” published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1883. His next book, a romantic sea story called “Within the Capes,” published by the same firm in 1885, was without illustrations. Following these two were “Pepper and Salt” (1886), a collection of fanciful tales and verses, and “The Rose of Paradise,” and “The Wonder Clock,” which were published by Harper & Brothers under date of 1888. Mr. Pyle's latest illustrated book is a romance of mediaeval Germany, entitled “Otto of the Silver Hand,” which is now in the press of Charles Scribner's Sons.

In 1879 Mr. Pyle returned to Wilmington, Del., where, by the way, he was born in 1853; and since then he has made his home there. He is a hard, though not a rapid, worker, and has won distinction as an illustrator by reason of the serious, earnest spirit that characterizes his drawings. He seems to have aimed for accuracy rather than for effect, as if with the idea that there should be more in a drawing than merely that surface work which tickles the fancy at the first glance, but stimulates no deeper train of thought. He has been especially successful in his representations of colonial life and mediaeval folk-lore.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Slideshow at the Drexel Institute, January 9, 1906

At 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 9, 1906, Howard Pyle delivered a lecture illustrated with steriopticon slides titled “The True Spirit of Art” at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia. The next day, the Philadelphia Inquirer noted:

That the true spirit of art is the work of the imagination and soul of the artist, which expresses his inner thought clearly and forcefully, even though the work may not be technically correct, was the theory advanced yesterday afternoon by Howard Pyle, the well-known artist, in the Drexel Institute.
And an as yet unidentified newspaper gave a much more detailed report, also on January 10, 1906, which I’ve transcribed in full, below. Although the article names a number of the pictures Pyle featured in his slideshow, I’m having difficulty identifying all of them, so if anyone can present some more viable candidates, please let me know.

Work of Famous Men Portrayed in a Lecture Delivered at the Drexel Institute

Howard Pyle lectured at the Drexel Institute yesterday on “The True in Art.” His chief aim was to show that the ambition of a great artist should be to portray his ideal in as vividly life-like a manner as the barriers to all artistic expression will permit. He cannot express passage of time or increase of age, the speaker said, but he can express emotion.

To illustrate the difference between the art of the past and that of the present, as regards the truest understanding of a picture, was another of Mr. Pyle’s objects. The main difference, he said, lies in the difference of man’s mind, which in the Middle Ages was not creative. To illustrate the speaker’s points stereopticon views were given. Four pictures representative of the art of the past, which were shown, pointed out that in the picture of the Madonna by Botticelli the Virgin is not portrayed as a Jewish maiden, but as an Italian symbolic of the perfection of womanhood. The same is true of Raphael’s Madonna, which portrays the highest form of maternal love, but only as the artist saw it among Italian women.

Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” is not necessarily THE Madonna Pyle discussed, but she’ll have to do for now.

As with the Raphael, Pyle may have discussed another Madonna than the “Madonna del Magnificat” by Sandro Botticelli.

Mr. Pyle next had thrown on the screen a picture by Chavannes, “The Heavenly Vision,” in which the perspective was very faulty, not because the artist could not draw properly, but because his whole aim and thought had been centered on his dreamlike reflection of the heavenly vision. [I assume this refers to Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ “Vision Antique” - though I suppose it could be “L’Inspiration Chrétienne”]

A similar idea was shown in the pictures by Millet - “Procession of Joseph,” the “Ploughmen” and an effective and wonderful work entitled “Leaving England,” [sic - “The Last of England” by Ford Madox Brown ] on which the artist labored years to bring an acute sense of tragedy to the face.

I assume “The Procession of Joseph” is really “The Flight into Egypt” by Jean François Millet. It represents Joseph carrying the Christ child - with halo aglow - followed by Mary. There is a similar version, where Mary is carrying the baby and is sitting on a donkey led by Joseph, but I believe Pyle would have been more familiar with the version show here.

“The Last of England” by Ford Madox Brown

Millais’s “Ophelia” was another illustration used to show the extent to which the artist went to get just the right touch of a woman floating in the water.

“Ophelia” by John Everett Millais

Then Mr. Pyle spoke of the American school of artists of today. Placing Augustus St. Gaudens at the head of the list, he presented a picture of the head of “Victory” used on the Sherman statue to show that this was St. Gaudens’s conception of glorified American womanhood.

“Head of Victory” by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Pyle had a slide made from a plaster study which the sculptor had given him in 1902. Shown here is a replica of the bronze version.

George De Forest Brush’s power of accepting and digesting a side of American life was shown in a powerful picture of primitive life - “Indians Spearing a Deer.”

“Indians Spearing a Deer” is more likely “The Moose Chase” by George De Forest Brush

The position of Winslow Homer in the artistic world, Mr. Pyle said, was not fully settled, “but that he ranks among the greatest artists today cannot be disputed. His ‘Maine Coast’ is considered one of the finest sea scenes ever painted.”

“Maine Coast” by Winslow Homer

In this way Mr. Pyle tried to illustrate his theme, that to be a great artist the aspirant must not think solely of painting and drawing well - for then he will in time make a beautiful picture, but never a great one. To paint a great picture he must have a huge ideal which he is always trying to express in its most complete form as he sees it in his dreams.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Twelfth Night, 1906

In 1904 Howard Pyle was elected a non-resident member of New York City’s prestigious Century Association - his name having been proposed by publisher J. Henry Harper and seconded by painter John White Alexander. Late the following year, Pyle was asked to design the invitation and program for the club’s traditional Twelfth Night celebration, to be held on January 6, 1906.

Either out of his own enthusiasm, or a desire to impress his fellow members, Pyle turned what should have been a quick and casual job into something much more ambitious. “I am afraid you are taking the Twelfth Night drawing too seriously,” warned his friend Frank Millet, who was coordinating the project (and who later went down with the Titanic):
The committee is very anxious to have something to send out with the notices which must be issued soon and they do not expect an elaborate work nor would they desire to give you much trouble about it.... Dr Curtis apparently dreams of something which in a few lines of the pencil will illustrate fully his description of the revels at Eagle-roost. But you can see from the old programs I sent you that elaboration is not necessary.
Millet wrote that on November 19, 1905, but I gather it was too late for Pyle to rein himself in. The invitation (which was also issued in grey-blue wrappers) and the program were printed under his supervision by John M. Rogers on Orange Street (“opposite the Old Malt House,” reads the colophon) in Wilmington, Delaware. Rogers had, among other things, printed Pyle’s Catalogue of Drawings Illustrating the Life of Gen. Washington and of Colonial Life, The Ghost of Captain Brand, and The Divinity of Labor - all in 1897 - and The Constitution and By-Laws of the Howard Pyle School of Art in 1903.

In addition to the drawings, Pyle did all the lettering seen here, except for the verse stanzas in “Centuria’s Call” and the portion of the paragraph beneath “The Programme of the Festival”: these were set in Fifteenth Century (later known as Caslon Antique), which Pyle began to use almost as soon as it was issued by the type foundry of Barnhart Brothers & Spindler.

And yet, for all his work, Pyle may not even have attended the Twelfth Night festivities: instead, he may have gone to the Franklin Inn Club’s dinner - for which he had also decorated the program cover - held the same evening in Philadelphia.

(By the way, Dr. Edward Curtis (1838-1912), whom Millet mentioned above, co-performed the autopsy on the body of Abraham Lincoln in 1865.)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lunch at the White House, January 2, 1908

One of the several lunches Howard Pyle enjoyed at the White House occurred on this day in 1908. This time, Theodore Roosevelt hosted Pyle and his two eldest sons, Theodore, 18, and Howard Jr., 16, as well as Eugene A. Philbin and William Howard Taft, then Secretary of War.

Pyle was an ardent supporter of Roosevelt and Taft, and the propaganda he contributed to their respective campaigns in 1904 and 1908 helped both men get elected. After the latter beat William Jennings Bryan in November 1908, Pyle wrote to the President-elect:
I believe that the country will look to this epoch as one of the greatest in its history - first upon the heroic figure of Theodore Roosevelt inaugurating the new purposes of a new national life, and secondly upon you, who are so preeminently fitted for the task, carrying forward the work which he has so magnificently begun to an equally magnificent fullfilment [sic].

This I know you will do, just as the whole country knows that you will do it.

I do not know whether you will recollect that I and my two boys lunched in your company at the White House last December [sic], and that as we left the White House together I said to you that my two boys would not be able to vote for you this time but that they would both vote for you for a second term. You see that, under Providence, my prediction is in the way of being fulfilled.
Pyle could really lay it on thick, sometimes. While Taft thanked him for his “earnest and enthusiastic expressions of good will and of hopefulness for the coming administration,” he added, self-deprecatingly (if presciently), “I am a good deal in doubt about it myself, as I am under the load. I have got to do the best I can to lift it.”

In view of Taft’s abandonment of many of his predecessor’s policies, I wonder if Pyle’s enthusiasm ever waned - and (as I’ve mentioned elsewhere) I wonder what he would have made of the 1912 presidential race, had he lived to see it unfold.