Sunday, November 27, 2011

Howard Pyle Slept Here, Part 3

Manhattan: Broadway - 10th Str... Digital ID: 717313F. New York Public Library

Yes, Howard Pyle slept here. He also worked here, about ten years before this photograph was taken.

The address is (well, was) 788 Broadway at Tenth Street in New York City, right next to James Renwick’s Grace Church. Fleischmann’s Vienna Model Bakery was on the street level, and, as Pyle’s friend James Edward Kelly recalled: “The upper floors of the building were full of little artist studios, like tiny cocoons, in which young artists tried to work out their daydreams.”

Pyle moved from 1267 Broadway (at 32nd Street) and into Room 31 of 788 Broadway on or about November 1, 1878. He wrote to his mother two days later:
I have looked all over New York and have seen all the studios that are to be seen and am sure that I have one of the nicest, pleasantest rooms in the city. It has a fine north light and two side lights looking out on Broadway. It is only two blocks above Scribners’ office and I can now go down to Harpers’ and return in half an hour, instead of its taking me a half day to complete the journey and its business as formerly. There is steam heat in the room and running water and altogether it is very satisfactory. The rent asked for it last year was thirty-five dollars a month. I have got it for twenty-three, and an allowance for fixing it up, calcimining the walls, etc.
Another friend, artist William Henry Shelton, remembered in his 1918 history of the Salmagundi Club (which met on Friday nights at Science Hall on Eighth Street, opposite the Mercantile Library, from February 1878 to October 1879):
Howard Pyle was one of the popular members of that period when a member’s popularity depended largely on the quality of his work. He was usually too busy to attend the meetings, but it was only a step from Eighth Street to the studio building adjoining Grace Church, and a committee of one was frequently appointed to bring him down. Sometimes he would be found writing, but more often with a sheet of Whatman’s paper on his easel moving backward and forward before a wet drawing by the light of a student-lamp, and not to be disturbed or enticed from his work by threat or persuasion.
(In his 1927 history of the club, Shelton presented this slightly variant picture: “There was a tarrying place at Science Hall in Eighth Street when it was usually my job to entice Howard Pyle to the meeting from his studio next to Grace Church. He would be found with a kerosene lamp on the floor, stretching a sheet of Whatman paper, or otherwise engaged, and not to be enticed.”)

But Pyle didn’t remain there long: it seems that he only took out a six-month lease on place - from November 1, 1878, to May 1, 1879 - and left the city when it was up. At any rate, the New York Herald of May 12, 1879, reported that “Howard Pyle has gone to Wilmington, Del., we regret to hear, to stay.”

It’s interesting to note that Pyle’s posthumously-published short story, “Huntford’s Fair Nihilist” (Harper’s Monthly, June 1913), centers on a young artist, based on Pyle himself:
He had come to New York from a provincial city two years before, with a great deal of talent and some excellent letters of introduction.

His talents found him plenty of work, his letters of introduction admitted him into pleasant homes, and his poverty spurred him on to those vehement efforts that were afterward crowned with so great a success.

Huntford used to breakfast and lunch at the old Budapest Bakery, where they had the best coffee and rolls in New York.
It’s a short leap from the Vienna Bakery to the “Budapest Bakery.” And another character in the story, Frederick Vollmer, an old German “Heraldic Designer,” was likely an amalgam of Joseph Vollmering (1810-1887), the German-born painter, and one “Rudolph B. Irontraut,” heraldic artist (also German-born, c.1822), who were both at 788 Broadway when the 1880 U.S. Census was taken, just over a year after Pyle had left.

The building, of course, is long gone, but Grace Church is still very much there. Some more details can be found here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A “Thanksgiving-Time Fancy” from Howard Pyle

“The Enemy at the Door” by Howard Pyle, from “Some Thanksgiving-Time Fancies” in Scribner’s Magazine for November 1895.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Howard Pyle on Ford Madox Brown

“Lear and Cordelia” (1849-54) by Ford Madox Brown

Despite his self-described “hermit-like” existence, Howard Pyle didn’t live in a vacuum, and one of the major points of the the new exhibit and book, Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered, is that his work was informed by myriad sources: from Winslow Homer to Japanese art to James Tissot to Walter Crane.

From his childhood, Pyle was also exposed to the Pre-Raphaelites: among other things, a print of William Holman Hunt’s “Light of the World” hung in the Pyle home as early as 1861 (and one is featured in the show, next to Pyle’s similar “The Closed Door”) and books illustrated by John Everett Millais were in the family’s library. And he often discussed them in his lectures. On November 21, 1904, for instance, he mentioned Ford Madox Brown’s “Lear and Cordelia” to his students:
I would like you to see Ford Madox Brown’s picture of Lear and Cordelia. Lear is half-lying back on his throne, looking like an old lion with his white beard and around are gathered all the courtiers. Some of them are in front of the others so that, perhaps, a part of a face is hidden but it looks right, as it is that way in a crowd. The faces and parts of faces are so strong in character that they might be faithful portraits of people.

That group of painters, Ford Madox Brown, Millais and Rossetti did their work with great simplicity and truth.
As it happens, the Delaware Art Museum also houses the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the United States, so take a look after you wander through the Pyle show (not to mention the Pyle galleries) and note the many similarities.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two Howard Pyle Exhibits

A little over a week ago, I finally visited the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and saw their Howard Pyle exhibit, which just closed. It was absolutely worth seeing, especially since they put the bulk of their extensive Pyle holdings on view. A couple of things I’d never heard of or seen in person: sketches, studies, drawings, paintings, photos - a real cornucopia of Pylean goodies. And the show was supplemented by a fair number of works by his students, including pictures made under Pyle’s supervision: drawings of plaster casts, paintings of costumed models, and more finished illustrations. Scores of things. I only wish I could have seen it all more than once!

Luckily, the Delaware Art Museum is commemorating the centenary of Pyle’s death (and the subsequent founding of the Delaware Art and Library Society, which became The Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, and, finally, the DAM) with a new exhibit.

OK, I admit I had fantasized of a show hung Louvre-style, with every bit of wall space covered with the hundreds of Pyles the museum has accumulated over the last 100 years. Only a relative fraction of them are on display, however.

But the presentation of Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered is unusually - surprisingly - fresh and sophisticated. Stepping down into the hushed yet huge gallery is like entering a cathedral, or at least a “Church of Pyle”: the overall lighting is low, but the spotlit paintings shine like jeweled reliquaries, or panels any “Old Master” would be justly proud of. I can’t help but echo what Pyle himself said after he first visited the galleries of Florence: I stood among the pictures, I felt that there was a great glow of warm yellow light emanating from them and surrounding everything. They are a great lesson to any artist, and I hope and think I shall learn much from them.
Go look, bask, and learn.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Howard Pyle in Salon

Salon features an interview with Margaretta Frederick, Chief Curator of the Delaware Art Museum, where the new Howard Pyle exhibit just opened. The piece also includes a slideshow.

One minor correction to the slideshow: the photograph of Pyle in his studio (pretending to paint the already-finished “The Evacuation of Charlestown”) was taken by C. P. M. Rumford (not “Runeford”), most likely in January 1899.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Friend Remembers Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle grinning in Italy, a few months before his death in 1911

Almost immediately after Howard Pyle died - 100 years ago today - his friends and acquaintances began to record their thoughts about him. I’ve always been fond of one particular reminiscence written and published on the very day of Pyle’s death in the Boston Evening Transcript. The author was the journalist Edward Noble Vallandigham, who worked at the Wilmington newspaper Every Evening, The Day of Baltimore, the New York Mail & Express, etc., and who was a fellow member (with Pyle) of the Quill and Grill Club and Pyle’s “esteemed friend of many years standing”. He later wrote the book Delaware and the Eastern Shore: Some Aspects of a Peninsula Pleasant and Well Beloved (1922). A few of Vallandigham’s details aren’t quite right, but, overall, his portrait of Pyle captures something a little different than we see in, say, the reminiscences of Pyle’s students...


When I first made the acquaintance of Howard Pyle, back in the middle seventies of the last century, he was a full-faced young man three or four years under thirty, and already, after a period of apprenticeship to severe economy, in New York, married, living at Wilmington, and earning $5000 a year as illustrator and writer. He was a simple and extremely attractive young man, six feet tall, full chested, broad shouldered, and well featured, with a fine cranium, frank blue eyes and a ready smile. His home was in a big old house in a part of the city once fashionable, if anything in Quaker Wilmington deserved that description, but then beginning to be deserted for suburban and semi-urban quarters.


It was my good fortune soon after making Pyle’s acquaintance to set up house keeping with two college mates, both struggling young lawyers, one, Lewis C. Vandegrift, afterward highly successful and greatly beloved, but unhappily now dead more than ten years, and Charles M. Curtis of New England ancestry, who has since become chancellor of Delaware. To our extremely modest menage came a group of very good fellows of whom Pyle was one, and his house was a place of resort for our little household and some of our guests, notably Leighton Howe, a brother of M. A. DeW. Howe of this city, and a most delightful companion with whom one could have the liveliest kind of quarrel upon any topic under heaven.

As Pyle prospered in his work he built a studio in the upper part of the city, just off Delaware avenue, an agreeable residence street, and to this studio we were all invited from time to time for picnic suppers and the like. Pyle had as manservant about the studio an extremely black and altogether idle Negro boy named Ferdinand, and for thirty years he was accustomed to quote as an exquisite witticism my foolish inquiry as to whether Ferdinand were worth two in the bush. We were all rather young then.

For reasons not explicable upon any theory of social comfort Pyle then summered at Rehoboth, Del., a resort as hot as Tophet and infested with mosquitoes. Its sole attraction was a good bathing beach and a startlingly realistic mirage. The cottage, which he shared with his mother-in-law, the sweetest imaginable old lady, whose Quaker bringing up did not prevent her from offering welcome liquid refreshment after the bath, was the scene of a hospitality almost recklessly prodigal. Later Pyle abandoned Rehoboth and summered at Chadds Ford on the Brandywine, where he established a summer school of design, and still later he removed his place of residence to Delaware avenue, and enlarged his studio so as to provide room for his pupils, who had increased in number and would have overwhelmed him had he chosen to accept all comers.

The establishment of his school of illustration grew out of a long cherished plan to aid young men of promise toward realizing their artistic ideals. To this school nobody was admitted who did not give promise of real talent, and who was unwilling to devote himself solely to the work in hand. Pyle made no charge for his services as teacher, but permitted pupils to pay for the use of the studio and materials. The man who failed of industry was ruthlessly sent away, but the worker with real talent got as much of the teacher’s time as he chose to ask. Gradually Pyle gathered about him at Wilmington a little group of illustrators who earned their living by the art he had done so much to teach them, and who were privileged to claim his continued advice and criticism.


When Thomas F. Bayard went abroad as ambassador to the Court of St. James, he rented to Pyle his big, queer old mansion on the outskirts of Wilmington, the house in which Myra Clark Gaines, the New Orleans claimant, was born. Here, as in all his other homes, Pyle exercised a generous hospitality, and the place with its wide porches, big airy rooms, ample grounds and wide prospect was well suited to such a purpose. Pyle found it, however, a most expensive place of residence, as the terms of his rental bound him to necessary repairs which required a considerable outlay. A few years ago, by which time Pyle was earning a large income by his indefatigable work of various kinds, he was tempted by an extravagant offer for S. S. McClure to become art editor of McClure’s Magazine. He passed nearly half his time in New York looking after his work for the magazine, and on meeting him at the City Club soon after his employment began, I found him full of enthusiasm in his undertaking, and of ardent admiration for Mr. McClure. Not long after, however, news came that the arrangement had been discontinued. I fancy Pyle had become too firmly set in his own views of artistic propriety, to work well for another, and the exile from home, which he dearly loved, must have gone hard with a man of his temperament.

It was characteristic of Pyle to become greatly absorbed in ideas, projects and somewhat in persons. In religion he was a convinced Swedenborgian, and consequently much of a mystic. At one time he became deeply interested in the Single Tax, but he long ago ceased to care for Mr. George’s ideas. Private theatricals were one of his passions, and he gave himself to this amusement with something like abandon. He became some years ago an enthusiastic admirer of Mr. Roosevelt, and was several times entertained at the White House. Upon one of these occasions he met Mr. Taft, then of the cabinet, heard him talk of the Panama Canal, and came away deeply impressed with his easy mastery of a great subject. “He seemed,” said Pyle, “as familiar with that vast undertaking as I should be with the laying of a drain in my back yard.”


The years dealt most kindly with Pyle, and in his middle fifties he was one of the most delightful looking of men. His head, indeed, was gray where it was not bald, but his face was rosy, his carriage erect, and his expression one of ripe benevolence and delightful openness. When I last saw him I sat by as he worked at a picture in colors, and we talked as he painted, a double occupation not unusual with him. It was on this occasion that he laid down the axiom, “If your art cannot be great, make it useful.” This, I think, gave a hint of his real ambition, which was to be a creative painter in oils. His visit to Italy was with a view to the study of Italian art at first hand, and had he been spared a dozen years we might have seen a fruitful harvest from that new undertaking. His death leaves a great gap in the ranks of American illustrators, and he is a loss as well to American letters that will be especially felt by thousands of his youthful admirers. Pyle was a most interesting personality, a man of singular sweetness, purity and sanity, the relentless pursuer of his own best ideals, and a worker of prodigious and tireless energy.

Behind the Scenes at the Delaware Art Museum

A behind the scenes look at the Pyle exhibit opening this Saturday, November 12th, at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington.

What Did Howard Pyle Die Of?

What did Howard Pyle die of? Most contemporary newspapers reported that it was “heart failure” or “heart disease”. The more common notion - via those closer to the Pyle family - is that it was “kidney trouble” or Bright’s Disease - and his known symptoms are consistent with that diagnosis.

And still another, also kidney-related cause of death can be found in the “Report of the Death of an American Citizen” sent by the American Consular Service at Florence, Italy, to the U.S. State Department. This document - signed, by the way, by Leo J. Keena (1878-1967), the American Consul, and an acquaintance of the Pyles - said it was “uric acid poisoning”.

Coincidentally, Pyle’s brother Clifford died at 53 of “a kidney affliction” in 1910 and his brother Walter died at 59 of Bright’s Disease in 1919. So perhaps a genetic component was involved.

Howard Pyle on Death

“To me Death is a most interesting change to look forward to and the other life is as certain a thing to me as the passing from one room to another room - except that it means just such a vital and radical change as that of a seed that quits its dead casing of earth to become a tree in the sunshine and air of the area.”
- Howard Pyle to Richard Watson Gilder, October 5, 1892

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

100 Years Ago... Today?

Howard Pyle died on November 9, 1911, in Italy at 4.30 a.m. - so it was still November 8th in Wilmington, Delaware, no?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered

I just received a copy of Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered - the brand new book which complements the exhibition of the same name at the Delaware Art Museum.

It’s pretty gorgeous: lots of pictures - as well as essays on different aspects of Pyle’s work.

Get one from:

Howard Pyle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Title-page drawing for The Wonder Clock (“1887” was changed to “1888” in the first edition of book)

No, you won’t find a major exhibition of Howard Pyle’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York - for that you’ll have to go to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania (RIGHT NOW!), Wilmington, Delaware (starting November 12!), and Stockbridge, Massachusetts (next year!), where his work is genuinely appreciated.

Trapped somewhere in the bowels of the Met, however, are a couple of Pyles from The Wonder Clock, acquired in 1926, when his stock was still pretty high. The drawings are rarely - if ever - seen by the general public, but the museum has done something good with six of them: they’ve posted high resolution scans on their website, so we can really inspect them, instead of relying on the just-OK reproductions in various editions of the book.

I would’ve liked the drawings to have been scanned in color to better see Pyle’s alterations, but it’s possible to detect some here and there. I’ve posted scans of a few of the illustrations as they initially appeared in Harper’s Young People to show the extent of the changes. Some are quite radical since Pyle began illustrating the stories in his Pepper and Salt style - more “vignette-y” with floating banners - but eventually switched to a square format with blackletter titles. And when he began preparing the pictures for the book he made them all uniform.

I’ve already pointed out that Pyle altered the title of “Master Jacob” - but here you can see that he pasted his new lettering onto the original drawing.

Three of the Met’s originals come from the “The Clever Student and the Master of Black Arts” which initially appeared (with “Black Arts” hyphenated) in Harper’s Young People for February 23, 1886. Pyle must have drawn them in late 1885, then altered them for use in The Wonder Clock in early 1887. A memorandum book in the Harper and Brothers Archive shows that he delivered these revisions to art editor Charles Parsons on March 5, 1887.

“The Princess walking beside the Sea” (above) in Harper’s Young People became “A Princess walks beside ye water, into whose basket leaps ye ring” in The Wonder Clock (below). Apart from the title, note what Pyle did to the princess’ crown.


“The Master of Black-Arts with a Hen” in Harper’s Young People became “The Master of Black Arts bringeth a curious little Black Hen to the King” in The Wonder Clock. Who knows where the blackletter title with an illustrated initial went to.


And “What happened to the Master” in Harper’s Young People became “What happened to the Master of Black Arts after all his tricks” in The Wonder Clock.


Finally, “The Princess and the Pigeons” (above) from Pyle’s story “Mother Hildegarde” in Harper’s Young People for May 25, 1886, became “The Princess dwells in the oak tree where ye wild pigeons come to feed her” in The Wonder Clock. As far as I can tell, Pyle only altered his initials - and the title - in this one.