Tuesday, June 26, 2012

“He lay awhile conscious of great comfort”

It’s a beautiful day, so here’s a beautiful Howard Pyle painting of a beautiful day. The reproduction is dodgy and the original painting is missing, so who knows what the colors really are, but they’re still effective and the composition is unusual and interesting.

Pyle painted “He lay awhile conscious of great comfort" for Justus Miles Forman’s “The Island of Enchantment” in the October 1905 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine. It later appeared in the book of the same title. So far, I’ve found no record of it being exhibited; maybe Pyle sold it soon after it was published.

It’s always useful to compare Pyle’s results with the text, so here is Foreman’s description of the scene:
That his eyes opened upon blue sky instead of upon painted or carved ceiling roused in him no astonishment. In service against the Turks and against the Genoese he had often slept in the open, waking when the morning light became strong enough to force its way through his eyelids. He lay awhile, conscious of great comfort and bodily well-being, coming slowly and lazily into full possession of his faculties. The air was fresh and warm, with a scent of thyme in it, and from somewhere in the near distance sea-birds mewed plaintively, after their kind. He dropped his eyes from the pale-blue sky and saw that though he lay upon turf - a hill it would seem, or the crest of a cliff - there was a stretch of tranquil sea before him, a narrow stretch, and beyond this a mountain range looming sheer and barren from the water's edge.

The sun must be rising behind it, he said to himself, for the tips of the serrated peaks glowed golden, momentarily brighter, so that it hurt his eyes to watch them. He wondered what mountains these could be, and then, all in a flash, it came upon him where he was - that this was Arbe, and that ridge the Velebic mountains of the main-land....

The woman who had saved his life half knelt, half sat behind him, and upon her knees his head had lain. At this moment she was leaning back a little, with her head and shoulders against a small tree which stood there, and her eyes were closed as if she were asleep.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

“Serious Advice” - Seriously?

I remember when I first saw this illustrated verse by Howard Pyle: I thought, “Wait a second - THIS isn’t in Pepper & Salt!”

No, it isn’t. It almost seems like a weird-alternate universe-racist parody of Pyle. But, unfortunately, it is, indeed, his handiwork, and one that shows an ugly side of him and the world he lived in.

Yes, for some reason, Pyle made it and Harper’s Young People printed it in their June 24, 1884, issue. But somebody had a change of heart, and it was the only piece of its kind that didn’t make it into Pepper & Salt when it was published sixteen months later. A good thing, too - I mean, that it was suppressed and didn’t live on in book-form. For better or worse, though, I wanted to show it and air some of Pyle’s dirty laundry. There’s not a lot, but the little there is is still cringe-inducing and unforgivable.

And, of course, Pyle also had to immortalize himself in the illustration: the mutton-chopped jester and adviser to the “Little Ethiopian” is Pyle himself. In fact, the two images are his earliest known self-portraits. Compare them with a photo taken at about the same time:

By the way, Pyle-as-jester turns up again in another illustrated verse, “Venturesome Boldness” (Harper’s Young People for August 26, 1884), and later in Pepper & Salt itself - in the frontispiece and the headpieces for the Preface and Table of Contents.

The original pen-and-ink for “Serious Advice” resides at the Delaware Art Museum, but I don’t know how often it sees the light of day.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Is This Young Howard Pyle?

Figure 1. Young man photographed by Emily Webb, Wilmington, Delaware, 1870s

Is this young Howard Pyle?

I don’t know. But I really, really wish I did - and I’m 99 percent convinced that it is Howard Pyle, somewhere in his early 20s. What throws me is the size of his hands, which seem too big (Pyle had smallish hands, apparently), and the shape of his ears. But these could be optical illusions. Also, I don’t know what color hair young Pyle had, or what his hairline was like before he started balding.

His eyes, though, look right, as does his nose, brows, and especially the shape and smallness of his mouth. In 1909, a reporter noted that Pyle had “eyes blue as a fog, a small mouth, bland, but massive and singularly youthful face.” And artist James Edward Kelly remembered that when Pyle arrived in New York in 1876, “he had a high, smooth forehead; a long, smooth nose; light blue eyes; long flat jaws; rosy cheeks; a long smooth chin; small pursed mouth.”

Fortunately, there is a bona fide early photo of Pyle - Figure 2 - taken about 1875 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Here he has longish, darkish hair, and a face very much in keeping with Kelly’s description. The slope and shape of the shoulders, nose, chin, mouth, etc., etc., are also very similar to Figure 1’s.

Figure 2. Howard Pyle at Owings Mills, Maryland, c.1875

Then again, the youngish Pyle in another early photo (Figure 3) appears to have brown or maybe even reddish hair, or at least something lighter than what we see in Figure 1 - but the darker tone there could be an illusion or from Macassar oil, or something...

Figure 3. Howard Pyle, by a Philadelphia photographer, c.1880-85

Still, there is indeed something reminiscent of Figure 1 in Figure 3. Not to mention in Frances Benjamin Johnston photos of Pyle, taken when he was in his early 40s. Pyle’s face has become rounder in Figure 4 and Figure 6, but his demeanor is similar, as are his mouth and eyes.

Figure 4. Howard Pyle photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1896

Curiously and coincidentally, the photographer of Figure 1, Emily Webb, was Howard Pyle’s first-cousin-once-removed: she had grandparents in common with Pyle’s father. Emily was born on February 23, 1830, died on April 24, 1914, and somewhere along the line - and at a time when female photographers were quite rare - she set up her “Union Gallery” on Market Street in Wilmington. Her sister Sarah, meanwhile, was the wife of the Saturday Evening Post’s Henry Peterson, who was also Pyle’s mother’s first publisher.

Perhaps another, identified copy of Webb’s photo - or the use of a facial recognition system of some kind - will solve the mystery. (Though, in laying out all these things, I think I'm now 99.9 percent sure.)

Figure 5. Closeup of young man photographed by Emily Webb, Wilmington, Delaware, 1870s

Figure 6. Closeup of Howard Pyle photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1896

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Semi-Lost Howard Pyle Student

Portrait of Elisabeth Moore Hallowell by Violet Oakley (via Pook and Pook)

In 1872, Howard Pyle, 19 and fresh out of art school, rented a room in the Grand Opera House in Wilmington and advertised that he would teach “drawing, sketching, and painting in oils.” Whether anyone took him up on the offer is still in question, however. Not long after his mother’s death in 1885, Pyle took his sister Katharine under his wing and into his studio and helped establish her career as an illustrator. And then in May 1894 he accepted a teaching position at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia. But even before Pyle began his course on “Practical Illustration” that October, he agreed to help another artist.

Her name was Elisabeth Moore Hallowell (1861-1910) and today is the 118th anniversary of her first lesson with Pyle. She initially approached Pyle by letter on June 14, 1894, and he replied the next day:
I do not know just how much assistance I could be to you in the matter of pen drawing. It is a medium which I use but very little, except for the lighter and more decorative kind of illustrative work. If I can help you I shall be glad to do so.
He added that “if you could bring your work to me every week, say, on Saturday afternoons, I would be very glad to criticize it for you and to give you such suggestions as I can - I shall not charge you anything for such criticism.” Then - on 19th - Pyle told her to meet him on Saturday, June 21st at his then-residence, “Delamore Place,” an airy old mansion at the corner of Clayton and Maple Streets. I gather he didn’t have her come to his studio either for propriety, or because he only worked till midday on Saturdays, or because he was doing a lot of work at home at that time (a number of his illustrations from 1893-96 are indeed set at Delamore).

Whether Miss Hallowell did in fact see Pyle every Saturday that summer is in doubt: he went on a whirlwind trip, for instance, to Onteora, New York, in late June or early July 1894, and also spent days and maybe weeks at a time at his family’s cottage in Rehoboth, Delaware. Evidently, however, she did make periodic visits: on September 20th, for example, Pyle wrote that he could probably see her on the 29th, but that “I should like you that time to come to my studio instead of my house. You will find me there between the hours of three and five. The address is 1305 Franklin Street.”

Subsequently, Hallowell continued to seek Pyle’s help both informally and at Drexel, where she attended his classes: in a January 1896 letter, for example, Pyle said, “I will try, unless I miss my train, to be at your room at nine o’clock, and will give you an hour’s criticism between then and ten o’clock.” And although primarily a botanical artist, she made at least one Pylesque illustration - “Betsy Ross Making the First American Flag” - for Leslie’s Weekly in 1896.

Surely, this was produced under Pyle’s influence - if not his direct supervision. But it’s not clear how long their association continued. In 1897 the Macmillan Company announced the publication of Hallowell’s Elementary Drawing: A Series of Practical Papers for Beginners and touted it as “a very practical interesting book, with suggestions as to the best methods of grouping, management of light and shade, and other essentials of composition, all intended to give reliable help to students who are filling their first sketch-books.” I haven’t seen the book, or her articles in The Art Amateur which composed it, but perhaps some of it came out of what she learned from Pyle.

Hallowell later taught pen and ink drawing and was “Instructor in Charge of the Class in Illustration” at the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art. In 1902, she married author-naturalist-traveler-botanist-historian (etc.!) Charles Francis Saunders (1859-1942) and the two collaborated on a number of projects. In 1906, for the sake of for Elisabeth’s health they moved to California, where she died at age 49.

Incidentally, the portrait of Hallowell shown above was drawn by Violet Oakley, one of Pyle’s most celebrated Drexel students and, it seems, Hallowell’s friend.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Marginal Greatness from “A Puppet of Fate”

Relatively primitive - and slightly off-register - color printing, but still a fine marginal illustration by Howard Pyle. It’s untitled and was only reproduced once, in Pyle’s short story - or “Extravaganza for the Christmas Season” - titled “A Puppet of Fate” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for December 1899. The as-yet missing original is probably oil on board.

 In keeping with the “Oriental” aspect of the story, Pyle pushed the flatness of his design to excellent effect. Actually, here’s a case where a Pyle reminds me more of his students’ work than the other way around - particularly of his female students, like Sarah S. Stilwell, who Pyle was guiding quite closely at this time. Perhaps there was some cross-pollination going on.

The picture illustrates the moment when the hero, the Reverend Enoch Miller, a clergyman from a small Pennsylvania town, who has been thrown into a series of weird adventures in Philadelphia (during which he tears his trousers and is “given a pair of yellow silk drawers, also of an Oriental pattern, to be worn until his accustomed garments could be mended and restored to him”), is ushered
into a room whose Oriental magnificence and splendor exceeded the possibility of his wildest imaginings. Upon the walls hung tapestries of heavy and Oriental damask, whilst a multitude of Eastern rugs of infinite magnificence and beauty were spread thickly upon the floor. The splendors of this apartment were brilliantly illuminated by the light of a score of perfumed waxen tapers burning in as many candlesticks, apparently of silver and of exquisite workmanship, and the furniture and appointments were of ebony inlaid with silver.

Upon a cushioned couch at the farther side of the room reclined a female figure clad in an exquisite négligé of yellow silk, and presenting so ravishing a beauty that had she been a houri from Paradise she could not more have dazzled the sight of the Rev. Enoch Miller. Near to her lay a lute inlaid with ebony and mother-of-pearl, which she had apparently only just the moment before allowed to slip from her indolent grasp. The hand that had perhaps just struck its silver strings now lightly held a cigarette, from which arose a thread of blue smoke perfuming the warm and fragrant air with the aroma of Turkish tobacco.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On “The Story of Adhelmar”

“He found Mélite alone” by Howard Pyle (1904)

“I am most pleased that my illustrations for your Story of Adhelmar should have met with your approval,” wrote Howard Pyle to James Branch Cabell on June 12, 1904. “A good story is always a great inspiration for an illustrator, and I hope I may have the pleasure of illustrating many more of yours.”

It’s funny, though: Pyle’s three pictures for “The Story of Adhelmar” weren’t so inspired. John K. Hoyt’s criticism of Pyle (which I’ve reprinted in full) zeros in on two of them. Of “He found Mélite alone” Hoyt wrote:
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.
Meanwhile, “He sang for her as they sat in the gardens”...
...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.

“He sang for her as they sat in the gardens” by Howard Pyle (1904)

“These two compositions are enough to drive the luckless author of ‘The Story of Adhelmar’ frantic,” Hoyt went on. “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.” Cruel assessments, perhaps, but he makes some good points.

Even so, the “luckless” Cabell was pleased with the set of illustrations and had written to Pyle on March 27, 1904: “I wish that I could properly express my admiration for the magnificent pictures you have made for the ‘Story of Adhelmar.’ But as I cannot, will you not take the word for the deed?” Pyle’s letter of June 12th (quoted above) was in response to this praise.

That same June, however, Pyle wrote to editor Thomas Bucklin Wells of Harper’s Monthly Magazine, “Again let me urge you not to send me too much medieval work.” But Wells seems to have ignored the request (or Pyle didn’t stand firm) and after another three years of illustrating Cabell and many other seemingly middling authors, Pyle complained to Wells on April 23, 1907:
I am in great danger of grinding out conventional magazine illustrations for conventional magazine stories. I feel myself now to be at the height of my powers, and in the next ten or twelve years I should look to do the best work of my life. I do not think that it is right for me to spend so great a part of my time in manufacturing drawings for magazine stories which I cannot regard as having any really solid or permanent literary value. Mr. Cabell’s stories, for instance, are very clever, and far above the average of magazine literature, but they are neither exactly true to history nor exactly fanciful, and, whilst I have made the very best illustrations for them which I am capable of making, I feel that they are not true to medieval life, and that they lack a really permanent value such as I should now endeavor to present to the world.
Of course, when Pyle wrote that letter, he only had four and a half years to live - not ten or twelve - and - despite his protestations - he and Harper’s Monthly continued on a similar path until his death.

“He climbed the stairs slowly, for he was growing feeble” by Howard Pyle (1904)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Howard Pyle at the Norman Rockwell Museum

The Rush from the New York Stock Exchange on September 18, 1873, 1895 Howard Pyle (1853-1911) 
Oil on panel, 18 x 11 7/8 inches Delaware Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 1915

What's the rush? Why, Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered opens today at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Yes, the show - previously on view at the Delaware Art Museum - has been reassembled in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Tonight’s festivities include a “Swagger and Dagger” party and special events will be held throughout its satisfyingly long run till October 28th. Even I’ll be up there on August 16th to have a conversation about Pyle.

On to Stockbridge! Hurry, hurry!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Abbey and Pyle Entangled

Entangled - Drawn by E. A. Abbey, from a Sketch by H. Pyle (Harper’s Weekly, January 19, 1878)

In his memoir, A World Worth While: A Record of “Auld Acquaintance”, illustrator W. A. Rogers said:
In looking over an old file of Harper’s Weekly the other day I came across a picture of Colonial life under which was printed, “Drawn by E. A. Abbey from a sketch by Howard Pyle.” That was before Pyle’s wings were strong enough to enable him to fly alone. It was in the days when most of the work was drawn on wood, and Pyle never was successful in working on the block.
“Entangled” is the picture Rogers mentions. “This was redrawn by Abbey from my original drawing,” Pyle noted in his scrapbook. “My drawing was made before I left Wilmington and was accepted as an ‘idea’. I got, I think, twenty dollars for it.” After Edwin Austin Abbey tightened it up, Victor Bernstrom engraved it for the January 19, 1878, issue of Harper’s Weekly. An accompanying paragraph explained:
The costumes and accessories in our engraving on page 52 show that the artist designed to represent a scene in an American country house of the last century; but the story suggested suits all times and countries. The tell-tale chairs placed cozily side by side, the evident embarrassment of the young gentleman, in spite of his effort to look cool and unconcerned, and as if he had been leaning all the morning against the mantel-piece, are quite perceptible to the keen glance of the maiden’s father as he comes into the room. Likely enough he is a loyalist, while the suitor for his daughter’s heart and hand may be the son of a patriot. Out of this hint every reader may weave a romance for himself.
“Entangled” was published just when Pyle’s early career was turning a corner, when publishers - and fellow illustrators, like Abbey - were beginning to take him seriously.

And in looking at this picture again, I feel more and more convinced that in redrawing Pyle’s picture, Abbey used Pyle himself as the model for “the young gentleman.” There’s something about the height and body language and the shape of head and brow, the texture of the hair, the sideburns, the way the hands are tucked in the pockets... Not many photographs of a twenty-something Pyle have turned up, but take a look at these two - maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Photograph of Howard Pyle, c.1875

Photograph of Howard Pyle, c.1880-83

Friday, June 1, 2012

Taking Pyle for Granted?

It seems strange to me that all these years people have apparently taken Howard Pyle for granted, and yet scarcely written a word about him as one of the biggest men of his calibre, or of any calibre, that we have in this country.
 So said Homer Saint-Gaudens, son of the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, on June 1, 1911. He was addressing Robert Underwood Johnson, then editor of The Century Magazine. “So I thought that I would start on a pilgrimage to find whether or no some magazine would not care for an article upon him by me, and I am beginning with you,” Saint-Gaudens added.

Johnson didn’t take the bait. Nor - as far as I can tell - did any other editor. Granted, Pyle wasn’t particularly newsworthy at that time, but I wonder if there wasn’t a subtle prejudice against him. Sometimes I think he wasn’t European enough for America - or at least for the American taste-makers.