Monday, April 30, 2012

Pyle Drives a Hard Bargain

“Cap’n Goldsack” by Howard Pyle (1902)

Henry Edward Rood, an assistant editor at Harper’s Monthly, got to see Howard Pyle’s original illustration for “Cap’n Goldsack” a few months before it was published in the July 1902 issue of the magazine. He wanted to buy it. Pyle wrote him on April 30, 1902:
I feel very much complimented that you should like “Captain Goldsack” and shall be very pleased for you to have it. Do you think that $75.00 is more than you care to give for it? If so I shall be glad for you to mention what you think would be sufficient value.
Pyle drives a hard bargain, doesn’t he? I don’t know if Rood accepted the offer - but I sure would.

The painting has yet to turn up: it was last seen at the Art Institute of Chicago in December 1903. It illustrated a poem of the same name by William Sharp:

Down in the yellow bay where the scows are sleeping,
Where among the dead men the sharks flit to and fro -
There Cap’n Goldsack goes, creeping, creeping, creeping.
Looking for his treasure down below!

Yeo, yeo, heave-a-yeo!
Creeping, creeping, creeping down below -
Yo! ho!

Down among the tangleweed where the dead are leaking
With the ebb an’ flow o’ water through their ribs an’ hollow bones,
Isaac Goldsack stoops alow, seeking, seeking, seeking.
What's he seeking there amidst a lot o’ dead men’s bones?

Yeo, yeo, heave-a-yeo!
Seeking, seeking, seeking down below -
Yo! ho!

Twice a hundred year an’ more are gone acrost the bay,
Down acrost the yellow bay where the dead are sleeping:
But Cap’n Goldsack gropes an’ gropes from year- long day to day —
Cap’n Goldsack gropes below, creeping, creeping, creeping:

Yeo, yeo, heave-a-yeo!
Creeping, creeping, creeping down below -
Yo! ho!

Monday, April 23, 2012

“After Reading Shakspere”

Headpiece for “After Reading Shakspere” by Howard Pyle (1900)

I admit I'm more of an Oxfordian than a Stratfordian, and even Howard Pyle said of Shakespeare - or Shakespere, or Shakspeare, or Shakspere - that “the man himself looms a very big, dim figure.” But Pyle had a lifelong love of the playwright-poet, whoever he was: he quoted him, acted in his plays, and hoped - in vain, due to his untimely death - to illuminate an edition of the Sonnets. Even so, no specific Shakespeare illustrations of Pyle’s were ever published.

The only “Shakespearean” Pyle illustration that I can find is the one shown here, from Edwin Markham’s The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems, which he made in 1900.

After Reading Shakspere
by Edwin Markham

Blithe Fancy lightly builds with airy hands
Or on the edges of the darkness peers,
Breathless and frightened at the Voice she hears:
Imagination (lo! the sky expands)
Travels the blue arch and Cimmerian sands,—
Homeless on earth, the pilgrim of the spheres,
The rush of light before the hurrying years,
The Voice that cries in unfamiliar lands.

Men weigh the moons that flood with eerie light
The dusky vales of Saturn—wood and stream;
But who shall follow on the awful sweep
Of Neptune through the dim and dreadful deep?
Onward he wanders in the unknown night,
And we are shadows moving in a dream.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

“I hope sometime for you to see the original”

“The Attack upon the Chew House” by Howard Pyle (1898)

On April 19, 1898, Howard Pyle wrote to a fellow member of the Mahogany Tree Club:
Wilmington Delaware

April 19th 1898

Dear Mr Cadwalader: -

I send you with this a reproduction of my picture of the attack upon Chew House.

It does not, of course, give any suggestion of the color - which was in cool and luminous greys - but it will at any rate indicate the arrangement of the “composition”

I hope sometime for you to see the original

Sincerely Yours,

Howard Pyle

To John Cadwalader Esq
Penna -

I echo Pyle’s hopes. The tiny reproduction of the picture shown here, from Henry Cabot Lodge’s “The Story of the Revolution” in Scribner’s Magazine for June 1898, does little justice to the original oil on canvas, which is indeed luminous - and big - some 23.25 by 35.25 inches.

Notes from a 1949 conversation between Pyle’s student Frank Schoonover and Pyle’s secretary Gertrude Brinckl√© reveal these details about the painting:
Some of Mr. Pyle’s students (including Schoonover and [Clyde] Deland) went to Germantown and photographed the house from the angle you see in the painting. On this side of the steps where the men are standing there was a green bench with flowerpots on it. The students told Mr. Pyle about it, and he said that was a good idea, and that if it were there at the time the photograph was taken, it would probably always be there - even at the time of the battle.... Some of the students posed for the painting, Mr. Schoonover included.
Pyle most likely painted the picture in March 1898. He then put it on view, briefly, in Philadelphia before shipping it to New York to be photographed and engraved for the magazine. After his hopes that it and the other eleven pictures in the series would be purchased and hung in the Library of Congress were dashed due to some legal technicality, it was exhibited here and there over the next several years. In a review of a 1905 Pyle show, The American Art News said of the "The Attack on the Chew Mansion" [sic]: “The composition is excellent, and the drawing and color make it one of the finest of modern historical paintings.” Hear, hear!

“The Attack upon the Chew House” - also known as “The Battle of Germantown” - now lives at the Delaware Art Museum.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Howard Pyle’s Titanic Connections

Headpiece for “McAndrew’s Hymn” by Howard Pyle (1894)

Howard Pyle’s connections to the Titanic disaster are tenuous at best, seeing that he had been dead five months when the ship went down. Legend has it, however, that his son Wilfrid, aged 14 - and perhaps also his other son Godfrey, 16 - who had stayed on in Europe to attend school in Switzerland, had tickets for the Titanic’s maiden voyage, but didn’t use them. At least one ticket is believed to have survived, but it’s gone missing. The question is, though, why would the boys leave school in April instead of filling out the school year? Grief? Homesickness? Spring break? At any rate, they wound up sailing safe and sound on the Kaiser Wilhelm II from Cherbourg in July 1912.

But Pyle was indeed connected to at least two bona fide Titanic passengers. One was Major Archibald Butt, who had served as an aide to both Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, and who had grown so distressed over the 1912 presidential race that he needed a recuperative trip to Europe. Teddy’s daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth (whose conversations generated one of my favorite books, Mrs. L) recalled him fondly:
Archie Butt was another good friend. Archibald Willingham Andrew Brackenbreed...Butt, we used to chant, teasing him about his name, which we said sounded like a load of coal falling downstairs. He had a very good sense of humor.
It so happens that Butt mentioned both Alice and Pyle in a letter to his sister, written November 12, 1908, the day after a celebratory White House luncheon attended by key players in Taft’s recent campaign victory over William Jennings Bryan:
A Mr. Pyle, a distinguished illustrator, and his wife were guests also. The former spent most of his time making sketches of those at the table and presenting them to Mrs. Longworth.
(Oh, what I’d give for those sketches! I’ve looked for them, in vain. But, anyway...) It sounds like Butt barely knew Pyle. Actually, unless he was just over-explaining for his sister’s benefit, it sounds like he may not even have known of Pyle. This seems odd, though, considering Pyle’s stature at the time, not to mention his friendship with people Butt knew very well. Like Francis Davis Millet, who apparently shared a house with Butt in Washington, D. C. (and whose relationship with Butt has been the source of some speculation).

Artist-author Frank Millet had known Pyle for over 30 years and was an unabashed enthusiast of Pyle’s work. In fact, Millet had been instrumental in getting Pyle his last mural commission for the Hudson County Court House in Jersey City, New Jersey. On November 14, 1911, Millet, then in Rome, had written to Anne Poole Pyle:
Having been out of touch for some time with newspapers, I came across by accident yesterday the shocking news of your husband’s death. I had planned to come to Florence within a few days to see you all quite unsuspicious that anything was the matter with him.

I write now to offer you my heartfelt sympathies in your great affliction and irreparable loss, this to you and to the children. I shall always cherish as one of my most pleasant memories the visit I made to Wilmington.

He has built a great monument for himself and his family in the art he has produced and has had no rival....
Five months later, Millet joined Archie Butt on the Titanic for the voyage back to America. Both went down with the ship.

Tailpiece for “McAndrew’s Hymn” by Howard Pyle (1894)

[Please note that the images shown here have nothing to do with the Titanic per se, but they’re the best I could do. Pyle made them to illustrate Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “McAndrew’s Hymn” for the December 1894 issue of Scribner’s Magazine.]

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Howard Pyle’s Wedding Pictures

“The Sailor’s Wedding” by Howard Pyle (1895)

It’s Howard Pyle’s wedding anniversary today: on April 12, 1881, the 28-year-old artist-author married the 22-year-old Anne Poole, daughter of the J. Morton and Ann (Suplee) Poole, in a Quaker ceremony in the parlor of the Poole house at 207 Washington Street in Wilmington. Pyle’s close friend and fellow illustrator, Arthur B. Frost, was best man and his sister, Katharine, was one of the bridesmaids. Lunch followed and later that day the couple took the train to Washington and stayed just a few blocks from the Executive Mansion at the Arlington House, the finest hotel in the city at that time (and not to be confused with Custis-Lee Mansion across the Potomac River in Virginia).

Somehow, weddings don’t show up too often in Pyle’s pictures. The image above, “The Sailor’s Wedding,” comes from his story “By Land and Sea” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for December 1895. Wilmingtonians might recognize Old Swedes Church in the background - a place Pyle was fond of, historically and aesthetically, and where his brother Walter married his first wife in 1884.

Pyle’s own nuptials more likely resembled the scene he presented in “A Quaker Wedding” (Harper’s Bazar, December 12, 1885). It’s tempting to call it a self-portrait, but Pyle was probably already balding and his sister recalled that the chairs were arranged in rows, with an aisle leading to a bow window, where the couple stood under a large bell made of white flowers. Even so, the mood and the crowd must have been akin to this.

“A Quaker Wedding” by Howard Pyle (1885)

And, just for the sake of completeness, here’s another Pyle wedding picture, from Building the Nation by Charles Carleton Coffin (Harper & Brothers, 1882).
“A Kentucky Wedding” by Howard Pyle (1882)

I might add that on April 12, 1911, Howard and Anne Pyle celebrated their 30th - and last - anniversary together by taking a day-trip from Florence to Pisa with their two daughters. I wish I had some pictures.

Monday, April 9, 2012

“A True Portrait of an Imaginary Gentleman”

One of the more unusual pieces of “Pyleana” in existence is the mug seen here, which Howard Pyle decorated to help out the Salmagundi Club. The New York Times Saturday Review of Books and Art of April 12, 1902, explained:
The recent library dinner at the Salmagundi Club and the sale of ex libris mugs that followed the dinner constitute an annual function notable for its originality of conception and for the successful way in which a clever idea is working itself out. It was the fourth dinner at which the arbitrarily limited number of twenty-four mugs, decorated by well-known artists and numbered and registered in the library of the club, was sold at auction for the benefit of the library.
The painter Bruce Crane (who knew Pyle since the late 1870s, apparently) served as the auctioneer and, the Times said, “charm[ed] the money from the bidders’ pockets.” 
The mug signed by that accomplished illustrator, Howard Pyle, brought out some lively bidding before it was secured by Mr. W. E. Baillie of Bridgeport. Quite properly Mr. Pyle’s mug showed a literary as well as an artistic side. A pleasant-faced pirate in a dark sombrero was described opposite in a panel of quaint lettering as “The [sic] true portrait of an imaginary gentleman painted by Howard Pyle for the Salmagundi Club of New York, MCMII.”
Pyle’s mug, which is just shy of six inches in height, went for $100 and has since found its way to the Delaware Art Museum. It’s a nice little painting, but Pyle didn’t think much of it, as seen in this scrawling letter to William Henry Shelton, artist, club historian and member of the Library Committee.

Here’s a transcription:
Wilmington, Del. April 9th 1902

Dear Mr Shelton -

I am delighted to hear of the success of your “mug” sale. It seems preposterous that my half hour sketch should fetch so much as you say. I am sure I would not give a hundred dollars for it - or a hundred cents for that matter. I am glad to have been of use though and am

Faithfully yours

Howard Pyle
But Pyle was of use at least once more: the mug he contributed to the 1906 club fundraiser sold for $260. I can only hope that it didn’t get broken or wind up in somebody’s dishwasher and that it’ll turn up one day.

Friday, April 6, 2012

My Book-Children

“My books have never possessed a great or universal popularity, but every year I find them to be more and more read, and every year brings them a wider and wider circulation. I do not think that any writer has a more charming audience than I. I call you my book-children, and next to my own children I regard you, who are my readers, as a sort of literary family.”
Howard Pyle to Mrs. Edwin M. Leask, April 6, 1907.