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.

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