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.

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