Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ox, Ox, Darley and Pyle

The great illustrator Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1821-1888) lived and worked in Delaware at the same time that Howard Pyle was coming of age and establishing a career in the same field. In fact, in the 1860s, Pyle and Darley both occupied houses on the Philadelphia Pike: the Pyle family’s “Evergreen(s)”, just north of Wilmington, sat within five miles of Darley’s “Wren’s Nest” in Claymont.

I have yet to find much else connecting them, however, apart from Pyle’s childhood fondness for “Darley’s outline drawings to Washington Irving’s stories” and some other scraps.

But here’s something: take a look at Pyle’s “Bringing the powder to Bunker Hill” engraved by John Tinkey for “The Gunpowder for Bunker Hill” by Ballard Smith (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, July 1886).

“Bringing the powder to Bunker Hill” by Howard Pyle (1886)

And now compare it to “Margaret annoyed by her Brother” engraved by Konrad Huber from Compositions in Outline by Felix O. C. Darley from Judd’s Margaret (New York: Redfield, 1856).

“Margaret annoyed by her Brother” by F. O. C. Darley (1856)

Call it an act of homage or appropriation or plagiarism, but, subtle differences aside, it’s clear that Pyle based his illustration on Darley’s. After all, it was much easier than rustling up a pair of oxen to draw from - though their proportions might have improved had Pyle observed them in person.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Stamford’s Soprano

In the early 1890s, when Howard Pyle was very much under the literary spell of his friend W. D. Howells, he wrote a handful of “realist” stories set in contemporary America. “Stamford’s Soprano” was one. It came out in Harper's Weekly for June 24, 1893, with the untitled illustration shown here. The original painting - I assume black and white oil on board - is still somewhere in the ether.

Interestingly, Howells wrote to Pyle: “Stamford’s Soprano is very neat and fine; but I like your psychical things best; not that I think you oughtn’t to do all the kinds you like; all you do pleases me.”

Skipping ahead to November 12, 2014...

Since posting this, the original painting has surfaced and is set to be sold by Heritage Auctions in New York on November 17, 2014. The oil on canvas laid on board measures 19 1/8 x 13 7/8 inches (48.6 x 35.2 cm) and is, of course, “a damned fine thing” (as Vincent Van Gogh might say).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

“...no better criterion of fundamental excellence of work...”

“...to have a drawing accepted and published is a sure sign that the work is above the average. There is no better criterion of fundamental excellence of work than to have it accepted and paid for by the Art Department of a magazine; and...there are no end of so called painters who would give much to have their work so accepted.”
Howard Pyle to Bertha Corson Day, June 23, 1896

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Imagination vs. Imitation

Howard Pyle’s “We started to run back to the raft for our lives” from “Sindbad on Burrator” by A. T. Quiller Couch in Scribner's Magazine for August 1902. See the original oil at the Delaware Art Museum.

“...I think you may easily see that in the making of a successful picture, the artist must compose and arrange his figures and effects altogether from his imagination, and that there is very little opportunity in the making of such a picture for him to copy exactly the position of a model placed before him in the lights and shadows which the studios afford. Nor is it likely that he can find any background to copy accurately and exactly into such an imaginative picture.

“For example: suppose an artist were called upon to paint a picture of a man running away from his enemies along the shores of a sea; with a gray sky overhead, and a strong wind blowing over the landscape. You see, he could not pose a model in the required position, for not only could no model hold such a position as that of a man running, with a center of gravity projected far beyond the point of impact; but even if the model were suspended in the air in such a position, yet he would not convey the idea of running. Apart from this it would be very difficult to find exactly the seascape to fit the picture, and exactly the landscape. For all this, the man must draw, not upon the facts of nature, but upon his imagination.

“If I have expressed myself at all clearly, you will see that what a man needs to paint an imaginative picture of such a sort, is not the power of imitation, but the knowledge to draw a figure from imagination.…”
Howard Pyle to William Merchant Richardson French (Director of the Art Institute of Chicago), June 22, 1905

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“The Doll Has Goitre” and Other Criticisms of Howard Pyle

Figure 1. “Her whisper was so soft he only guessed the words“ from "The Stairway of Honor" by Maud Stepney Rawson in Harper's Monthly Magazine for January 1904

One might think that Howard Pyle was universally lauded during his lifetime. But he had his critics. John K. Hoyt was one, and his stinging - yet amusing - long letter to The New York Times was printed on October 22, 1904. I've reprinted it in full, below, and - in case you don’t have scattered issues of Harper’s Monthly Magazine for 1904 at your elbow - I’ve inserted the illustrations to which Hoyt refers.

Mr. Pyle’s Illustrations

New York Times Book Review:

I wonder if the great periodicals of the day have art censors on their staffs. This thought occurs on seeing so much poor work in many of their illustrations. Take Harper's Monthly Magazine, for example. For some time it has been publishing illustrations in color by Mr. Howard Pyle. Mr. Pyle’s reputation stands high, and deservedly so. He can do good work, and he should keep his contributions up to the standard for excellence; but some of his drawings are distinctly bad. Not only that, but they are irrelevant to the story he attempts to illustrate. For instance, take the short story in the January number entitled "The Stairway of Honor." The hero, an artist, is a gentleman, and endowed with a keen sense of honor, while the heroine is a lady of high degree; in short a Duchess, and is very beautiful. Now turn to the frontispiece [Figure 1] - and behold! a man and woman with the faces of peasants, while that of the woman is weak and ugly, the very reverse of the woman described in the story. Both are deformed. Compare the man’s short arm and shriveled hand with his abnormal breadth of shoulder. Look at the woman's arms - both too short - and her misshapen body and her general air of awkwardness. The color in this picture is good, the drawing bad.

Figure 2. “He found Mélite alone” from “The Story of Adhelmar” by James Branch Cabell in Harper's Monthly Magazine for April 1904

In the April number the place of honor - the frontispiece [Figure 2] - is again assigned to Mr. Pyle. Here we have a wooden image sitting, garbed in the habiliments of a woman, with a heavy mat of jute, in lieu of hair, falling from her head to her waist. The figure is devoid of any lines indicative of feminine grace; it might be the figure of a boy - a wooden boy. The arms in those sleeves are not made of flesh and bones and muscle, but of good solid oak. The expression of the face betokens intense, sullen stupidity. A knight clad in armor stands in the doorway, leaning against the jamb for support, evidently bereft of strength - as well he may be - at the ugliness of the thing.

Figure 3. “He sang for her as they sat in the gardens” from “The Story of Adhelmar” by James Branch Cabell in Harper's Monthly Magazine for April 1904

Another illustration in this number, facing Page 706 [Figure 3], represents a woman with a faded, washed-out face; a silly, simpering face; and whose right side has been developed at the expense of the left. And then, while gazing, one is stricken with deep compassion, as he perceives that this poor creature has curvature of the spine, and he wonders how, under the circumstances, she can even simper. In this figure also there are no lines to indicate the sex. These two compositions are enough to drive the luckless author of “The Story of Adhelmar” frantic. And if he has survived the sight of them, he is doubtless now going about in quest of the artist and thirsting for his gore.

When it comes to art let, us be aesthetic or nothing. Let us change the titles of these two compositions and, after the manner of Whistler, call the first "A Nightmare in Blue," and the other "A Simper in White."

Figure 4. “Catherine de Vaucelles, in her garden” from “In Necessity’s Mortar” by James Branch Cabell in Harper's Monthly Magazine for October 1904

Turn to the frontispiece in the October number [Figure 4]. Here we have the picture of a Japanese doll, and - was ever such a thing heard of? - the doll has goitre. Not as yet a fully developed case; but it’s there, and is quite pronounced. The face is a blank wall; but there - dolls’ faces generally are devoid of expression. Some of the material left over from constructing the gown has been utilised in building a mouth. Was the moon an afterthought? It would seem so, for it is not night. Apple blossoms don't look like that by moonlight; neither does a red dress. At any rate, putting the moon there was a lucky hit - we might almost say an inspiration - for it draws the eye away from the doll-faced woman.

Figure 5. "Villon - The singer Fate fashioned to her liking" from “In Necessity’s Mortar” by James Branch Cabell in Harper's Monthly Magazine for October 1904

Figure 6. "The King himself hauled me out of gaol" from “In Necessity’s Mortar” by James Branch Cabell in Harper's Monthly Magazine for October 1904

Now turn to the pictures facing Pages 706 [Figure 5] and 708 [Figure 6] in this number. What a difference! Here we have good work, work that any artist might well be proud of. No uncertain touches here, no feeble lines; but good, strong drawing, and the colors laid on with the brush of a master. Mr. Pyle's backgrounds are almost always rich in color, harmonious, and effective.

I wonder why his men are so well drawn, while his women generally are not. Evidently he does not draw women from the model. Turn again to the illustration facing Page 706 in the April number [Figure 5]; compare the drawing in the figure of the man with that in the figure of the woman. Was there ever such incongruity? That of the man shows that it was drawn by an artist of the twentieth century who understands his work, while that of the woman might have been done at the time in which the story is laid, in the fourteenth century, or, rather, in justice to the artists of that time, let us say, during the paleolithic age.

Figure 7. "The drawing of the sword" from “The Sword of Ahab” by James Edmund Dunning in Harper's Monthly Magazine for August 1904

I said, I wonder why his men are drawn so well. They are not always. Turn, for instance, to the picture facing Page 335 in the August number [Figure 7]. The drawing in the figure of the man is bad. The lines are feeble, uncertain. His right shoulder is dislocated, caused doubtless - and it serves him right - by his efforts to draw the sword in that awkward and unheard-of fashion. The writer of the story fails to mention this accident; neither does he account for the presence in the picture of what is evidently an effigy from some modern wayside shrine in Italy. This only goes to show that an artist should exercise the utmost care in selecting an author to write up his pictures.

I do not claim that all women are beautiful, or that all of them have perfect figures; and if an artist chooses to portray them as ugly and deformed, he is clearly within his rights; but I maintain that when an artist is assigned to illustrating a story, he should place himself en rapport, if possible, with the author; should try to enter into his feelings, see with his eyes, depict the characters as they are described. And above all things, if the heroine is beautiful, let him make her beautiful - if he can.

Candler, North Carolina

Me (Ian Schoenherr) again:

Mr. Hoyt makes some good points: Pyle’s women, with a few exceptions, truly are the “weaker sex” - idealized, anemic, and bland. And, as the years went on, while Pyle’s pictures grew more vibrant in color, sometimes his figures lacked good construction and his compositions were oversimplified.

For the record, “the luckless author,” James Branch Cabell, thought Pyle’s illustrations for “The Story of Adhelmar“ were “magnificent.” But I never much liked “He found Mélite alone”
[Figure 2] and “He sang for her as they sat in the gardens” [Figure 3] - or the third illustration, not shown. Too, the figures in "The drawing of the sword" from “The Sword of Ahab” leave something to be desired - although the setting, costumes, and color are pretty interesting.

do like “Her whisper was so soft he only guessed the words“ [Figure 1] for its weird lighting, color, and atmosphere. The “faces of peasants” don’t bother me, but then again I’m descended from such “ugly” people.

Who knows if Pyle ever took note of Hoyt’s letter. He wrote later about “the futility of following such memoranda” and said, “Where they intend to praise they always miss the point, and where they intend to dispraise they leave, even though you know the dispraise does not amount to anything, a feeling of unpleasantness.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Life Lessons from Howard Pyle

From “The Divinity of Labor,” a commencement address delivered by Howard Pyle to the graduates of Delaware College on June 16, 1897:
When you have chosen your profession and have entered fairly into the work of your life, that which is first necessary to achieve success is application.

By application is not meant mere dumb and stubborn laboriousness of duty; by application is meant the perfect conjunction or application of your mind to the subject in hand. If you are a farmer, do not pause at the end of the furrough to speculate upon the destiny of mankind; if you are a student, do not, whilst your eyes are marching across the page, allow your brain to occupy itself with other things; if you are an experimenter or an inventor, do not pause in the midst of your labors to formulate some new experiment or some other invention aside from that upon which you are at work; if you are an author, or an artist, do not permit your mind to ramble through the shady depths and the breezy stretches whilst your canvas or your paper lies empty before you. Bend every faculty of your mind on the work which lies beneath your hand. Concentration is a habit - it is not a gift, and I do assure you as a man who has known many men and who has observed many men at their work - I do assure you that just in the degree that a man concentrates his mind upon the work that lies immediately before him, in exactly that degree does he achieve success in the labor of his life.

As necessary, however, as is the concentration of the mind, it is not more necessary to success than it is to develop the opportunities that lie immediately at hand.

There are few temptations greater than the temptation that possesses a man to gaze into some impossible to-morrow, beholding in it an opportunity that does not exist to-day.

The opportunities that lie immediately at hand appear to be very small and very petty; and those that are remote appear to be very great and very pregnant of possibilities. Alas! how many men are there who, gazing into that seductive future, stumble over the things of the present and so fall prostrate in the dust!

He who succeeds, is he who seizes the opportunity that lies within his grasp and developes that opportunity to its uttermost. No one can ever achieve a great success unless he performs well the small things of life. To achieve success, everything, however insignificant, should be done to the fulness of your powers.

Master Pyle Goes to Washington

The United States Treasury Department at Washington, from a photograph by Alexander Gardner (1866)

“You aught to see the treasury bilding it’s steps are the queerest things I ever saw there is not any thing to hold them up yet hundreds of people walk on them ever day...

“Dr* says thers is more 3700 clearks and not more than 3 or 4 to each room The building takes up a hole squair much longer than any of ours...”
Howard Pyle, 13, to his father, William Pyle, June 16, 1866

* Dr. William Elder (1806-1885), physician, lecturer, political economist, biographer of Elisha Kent Kane, etc., etc., and longtime friend of the Pyle family.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

To the Villa Torricella, June 14, 1911

Villa Torricella, Summer 1911 (Eleanor and Phoebe Pyle in the distance)

One hundred years ago today - June 14, 1911 - Howard Pyle and his family took up a three months’ residence at the Villa Torricella in San Domenico, just north of Florence. He later described the entrance to the property - which his son Howard photographed - in a letter to Mrs. Charles Copeland:
You approach this little villa up a rising lane from the road. The road itself is framed on either side by high stone walls, over which the verdure peeps, and it is so narrow that it would be impossible for two teams to pass one another. An iron gate shuts us from this road, and as the gates are opened you see before you the stony rise of a path, and overhead an arbor of vines and flowers. When we were here in the spring it was full of wistaria, and the air was loaded with their fragrance. Now there are few, if any, flowers, but only the leaves and the vines twined overhead.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Howard Pyle Quits Drexel Institute

I’ve read in more than one place that, once Howard Pyle decided to establish his own school, he resigned from the Drexel Institute (in a February 14, 1900, letter) and left immediately.

That isn’t what happened. For one thing, Pyle’s sense of duty would have kept him on until his contract ran out at the end of the spring semester - or at least until a replacement was found. Besides that, though, this item appeared in The New York Evening Post of Saturday, June 16, 1900:
Last week on Wednesday evening the pupils of Howard Pyle gave him a farewell reception at Drexel Institute, Philadelphia. It was an occasion of welcoming the coming as well as speeding the parting guest, for B. West Clinedinst, the instructor who is to succeed Mr. Pyle, was also present. Speeches were made by both of the men, Mr. Pyle was visibly affected by his leave-taking.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sahibs, Sikhs, Pathans, Boers, Kipling...and Pyle?

Howard Pyle’s “Then appeared suddenly, a little beyond the light of the lamp, the spirit of Kurban Sahib” illustrated Rudyard Kipling’s short story, “A Sahib’s War,” in Collier’s Weekly for December 7, 1901.

The setting is South Africa during the Second Boer War (which was then in progress): “a tall young man deprived of understanding” is about to be hanged from a tree by two turbaned soldiers: Umr Singh, a Sikh, in the center, and Sikander Khan, a Pathan, on the right. But their efforts are thwarted by the ghost of a beloved British cavalry officer, Captain Corbyn (“Kurban Sahib”), recently killed in an ambush, who drifts toward them, saying, “No. It is a Sahib’s War.” A Boer woman is cowering on the ground with upraised “paroxysmal hands” (Singh and Khan sport them, too - common Pylean appendages).

The original for this has yet to turn up, so while I’m confident Pyle painted it in oil, I don’t know if it’s black and white, part color, or full color, or how large it is. The 9 x 10" halftone plate was retouched by an engraver, but it’s a pretty awful reproduction. Even so, its otherworldly weirdness and strength come through.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lurid Pyle

This doesn’t look 113 years old, but it’s from Howard Pyle’s “A True History of the Devil at New Hope” in Harper’s Weekly for December 18, 1897. It served as a headpiece for the chapter titled “How the Devil was cast out of the Meeting-House” and the reproduction measures 6 x 3.3". A wonderful thing: flat, bright, bold, and creepy.

“The Robin’s Vesper”

The June 7, 1879, issue of Harper’s Weekly featured this full-page (12 x 8.9") illustrated poem titled “The Robin’s Vesper” by Howard Pyle. According to his younger sister, Katharine, this was one of the first things Pyle did after relocating from New York to Wilmington.

For the longest time I was under the impression that Pyle had left New York toward the end of 1879, but Katharine recalled that her brother’s “A Milkmaid’s Song” - published in Harper’s Weekly for July 19, 1879 - was also done shortly after his return to his hometown. Granted, Katharine’s not the most reliable witness, but fortunately we have at least two newspaper items that back her up: on May 12, 1879, the New York Herald lamented, “Howard Pyle has gone to Wilmington, Del., we regret to hear, to stay.” And the Art Interchange for May 28, 1879, noted, “Howard Pyle has left New York for good and is now living in Wilmington, Del.”

In the late 1870s through the early ’80s, Pyle made a couple of genre pictures such as this, akin to and almost contemporaneous with some of Winslow Homer’s studies, like Autumn and Peach Blossoms.

Pyle did the hand-lettering himself, too, and in case you find yourself tripping over his long s’s, here’s a transcription:
The Robin’s Vesper
by Howard Pyle

When shadows brood upon the hill,
And daylight draweth to a close;
When frogs pipe by the lowland rill,
Within the valley’s dim repose;
Then the small bird seeks her nest,
Swinging on the blossoming spray;
Only Robin doth not rest,
Singing to the dying day.
Sweet Robin!
Merry Robin!
So I’d have my Soul to be,
Singing clear
Thro’ the near
Shadow of Eternity.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Howard Pyle vs. N. C. Wyeth

Behold, two great versions - two great visions - of the same scene from Kidnapped:

“I saw him pass his sword through the mate’s body” by Howard Pyle (1895)

“I saw him pass his sword through the mate’s body” by Howard Pyle, painted in black and white oil, about 11 x 16" on canvas board for The Novels and Tales of Robert Louis Stevenson: Kidnapped (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895). The original is at the Delaware Art Museum. The reproduction in the book (from which the above was scanned) is only 3 x 4.3" and the sized paper has rippled and yellowed over time.

“The Siege of the Round-House” by N. C. Wyeth (1913)

“The Siege of the Round-House” by N. C. Wyeth, painted in full-color oil on canvas, about 32 x 40" for Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913). The Brandywine River Museum has the original which is considerably less yellow than this plate (5 1/4 x 6 5/8") from an early edition of the book.

The more I look at Pyle’s paintings the more I feel that there is a certain “quietness” (I wouldn’t say “coolness”) in even his most action-packed scenes. They uncannily capture those slow-motion, hushed moments of highest tension. As I’ve said before (somewhere around here), one of the things I love about Pyle is that his best pictures - and his best writings - activate my other senses as I look or read: I feel the sun’s hot glare; I smell the grass or the smoke; I hear the distant birds or lapping waves. It’s subtle, yet it’s a big part of what gives his work its resonance and power. And when I look at this picture I hear the thin, almost imperceptible blade piercing the mate’s clothing as it emerges from his back.

Pyle once said something to the effect of, “If you hear a man say, ‘I will kill you!’ in wild passionate tones you will not believe that he means it - but if he should say it quietly and deliberately with the passion kept behind you will know that life is endangered.”

Of course, N. C. Wyeth rarely kept the passion behind. In this as in so many of his pictures (especially his earlier ones) his barbaric yawp is loud and clear - not to mention the cacophony of clattering swords, shouts, and stamping feet. His scene is more overtly melodramatic and theatrical than Pyle’s: it’s even illuminated as if by footlights. But while Wyeth’s actors are hammier, his colors brighter, and his composition simpler, somehow he pulls it off - as he so often did. His over-the-top approach was as effective as it was different from his teacher’s “quiet and deliberate” path.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

“I think myself they are among the best”

“Blackbeard's last fight” by Howard Pyle (1894)

Finally, some pirates.

On June 4, 1894, Howard Pyle sent the last two illustrations for Jack Ballister’s Fortunes to William Fayal Clarke, his editor at St. Nicholas Magazine. His pirate novel for children was then running in installments and these two pictures wouldn’t appear until the issues of July and September 1895. Both were painted in black and white oil on academy board (probably made by Devoe & Co.) about 10 x 15 or 16".

Pyle seems to have begun these after May 16, 1894, the day he sent in the three preceding pictures - or maybe even after the 17th, when he and Clarke discussed the final four subjects over lunch in New York - or maybe - and perhaps more likely - after May 25, when he replied to a letter from Clarke, who had a few concerns about them.

“I hope you will like these drawings,” Pyle wrote to Clarke on June 4. “I think myself they are among the best, especially the fight, in which I have studiously thrown Blackbeard somewhat in the background.”

And that’s the curious thing about the painting: we see comparatively little of Blackbeard, whose braided-bearded face, with a dagger clutched between his teeth, is dead center, yet partially obscured by the cuff of the dark-jacketed Lieutenant Robert Maynard. Here is Pyle’s long description of the chaotic scene:
Lieutenant Maynard, as he called out the order, ran forward through the smoke, snatching one of his pistols out of his pocket and the cutlass out of its sheath as he did so. Behind him, the men were coming, swarming up from below. There was a sudden stunning report of a pistol, and then another and another, almost together. There was a groan and the fall of a heavy body, and then a figure came jumping over the rail, with two or three more directly following. The lieutenant was in the midst of the gunpowder smoke, when suddenly Blackbeard was before him. The pirate captain had stripped himself naked to the waist. His shaggy black hair was falling over his eyes, and he looked like a demon fresh from the pit, with his frantic face. Almost with the blindness of instinct, the lieutenant thrust out his pistol, firing it as he did so. The pirate staggered back: He was down - no; he was up again. He had a pistol in each hand; but there was a stream of blood running down his naked ribs. Suddenly, the mouth of a pistol was pointing straight at the lieutenant's head. He ducked instinctively, striking upward with his cutlass as he did so. There was a stunning, deafening report almost in his ear. He struck again blindly with his cutlass. He saw the flash of a sword and flung up his guard almost instinctively, meeting the crash of the descending blade. Somebody shot from behind him, and at the same moment he saw someone else strike the pirate. Blackbeard staggered again, and this time there was a great gash upon his neck. Then one of Maynard's own men tumbled headlong upon him. He fell with the man, but almost instantly he had scrambled to his feet again, and as he did so he saw that the pirate sloop had drifted a little away from them, and that their grappling-iron had evidently parted. His hand was smarting as though struck with the lash of a whip. He looked around him; the pirate captain was nowhere to be seen - yes, there he was, lying by the rail. He raised himself upon his elbow, and the lieutenant saw that he was trying to point a pistol at him, with an arm that wavered and swayed blindly, the pistol nearly falling from his fingers. Suddenly, his other elbow gave way, and he fell down upon his face. He tried to raise himself - he fell down again. There was a report and a cloud of smoke, and when it cleared away Blackbeard had staggered up again. He was a terrible figure - his head nodding down upon his breast. Somebody shot again, and then the swaying figure toppled and fell. It lay still for a moment - then rolled over - then lay still again.
I should note that the above passage comes from the book, not the magazine, and differs a fair amount since Pyle extensively revised the text somewhat over a year later. The picture, too, was retitled, “The Combatants cut and slashed with savage Fury,” for the book version. Go and see the luminous original at the Delaware Art Museum.

“‘Then I will come,’ said he” by Howard Pyle (1894)

The second picture shows Jack Ballister and Miss Eleanor Parker “standing in the full moonlight, which will make an effective contrast to the illustration preceding it, having, as it will, a background setting of the night and the starry sky.” Or so Pyle described it in his letter of May 25, 1894. He went on:
This picture will not necessarily be especially dark, though of course it will not be as brilliant as the full sunlight. Nevertheless, I should recommend it as a fitting subject. It accents the peaceful conclusion of a rather active story, especially as it will directly follow, both in the magazine and the book form, the fight between Blackbeard and the King’s men.

It seems to me that it would hardly be in keeping with the story to culminate the illustrations with action instead of repose. However, of course I will make whatever illustrations you think fitting.
But Clarke conceded, and Pyle painted with breakneck speed. His Wilmington neighbor, Caroline Tatnall Bush - called “Carrie” - who later married Christopher L. Ward, posed for Eleanor, who, in turn, provided the name for Pyle’s second daughter, born February 10 that same year.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More on John Henderson Betts

Last year I posted something about John Henderson Betts, who studied with Howard Pyle at the Drexel Institute and at Chadd’s Ford, but who met an untimely and gruesome end shortly before his 25th birthday. Since then, a few of his paintings have come to light...

Betts conveniently dated this one November 9 (or 4), 1897, and he most likely made it in Pyle’s Life Class Studying from the Draped and Costumed Model (a.k.a. “Draped Model Class” or “Class in Draped Model” and so on) since it contains no “setting” per se. As Pyle said in the Drexel course catalogue:
In this class, departing essentially from the ordinary work of academic schools in studying from the living figure, the model is costumed and posed in some suggestive action, and the student is instructed to draw the figure that it may be introduced into a picture.
Or, as he put it another (yet, perhaps still convoluted) way:
The purpose here is to instruct the student in the necessary technical methods to be used in representing the draped human figure. The processes required to properly draw the draped figure are so different from those demanded in the rendition of other kinds of academic work that it has been found necessary to require proficiency in this before advancing the student to the final branch of instruction.
Although Pyle did not pick Betts’ study for the second annual School of Illustration show in the spring of 1898, another student, Cornelia Greenough, exhibited “The Cavalier, 1650,” which may have come from the same pose. (Betts' “Colonial Figure, 1740” was shown, however, as well as his “Peace and War,” “Study of a Head - Emperor,” and “The Highwayman.”)

And now here’s something representative of “the final branch of instruction” - i.e. the Illustration Class:

Although this one is not titled, I would call it “The Priest and the Piper.” Why? Because two other Pyle students, Sarah S. Stilwell and Bertha Corson Day, exhibited pictures of that name in the May 1899 student show at Drexel and Pyle (who I’m sure wrote the text of the catalogue) said:
The subject was painted as class work with the purpose of having one of the pictures used in Harper’s Weekly [sic] Hallowe’-en number. Of all the class work, the best two examples were chosen. The above two were submitted to Harper’s Weekly, and the drawing by Miss Stilwell was selected as being the most available for publication.
Now, compare Betts’ with Stilwell’s picture, which was published in Harper's Bazar (not Harper's Weekly) for November 5, 1898. There it’s called “A Vision on All-Hallows Eve” and it illustrates a playlet by Pyle himself, titled “The Priest and the Piper: A Halloween Fantasy”...

“A Vision on All-Hallows Eve” by Sarah S. Stilwell (1898)

And while we’re on the topic, the Brandywine River Museum has a painting by Caroline Louise Gussmann, which may have been born out of the same knock-kneed piper pose. (In fact, there may well be a score of similar images out there - and the same goes for Betts’ cavalier picture.)

“Tipsy Piper” by Caroline Louise Gussmann

This next and last one is dated November 1898, which may have been after Betts left Drexel. But the Pyle influence is still very much in evidence - and since one of Betts’ compositions was exhibited in the May 1899 show, perhaps he studied with Pyle for a while after the summer session of 1898. This looks less like a class piece than a bona fide illustration, though I have yet to identify if, when, or where it was published.

And in case you’re inclined to learn more about these or see several other works by Betts, please look here.

Would that I could snag them myself!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

“I am growing so old now...”

Howard Pyle’s summer home in 1911: Villa Torricella, San Domenico, Florence, Italy

“This is now the first of June, and two weeks hence we shall be out in the country, and I long to get there and to enjoy the luxury of an American furnished house with Italian belongings, and the fine large secluded studio that I shall have. I hope I shall have work to do, but I am pretty far away for that, and I find it difficult to keep myself busy. On the whole it is a very good thing, for it stimulates my imagination, and braces me up to the old effort of making what I do tell as much as possible. But I am growing so old now that I find the strain of imagination is a little depressing to me, and I must keep up my great expenses or else rapidly fall behind.”
Howard Pyle to Stanley Arthurs, June 1, 1911