Friday, March 29, 2013

Howard Pyle Lecture in Reading, PA - Tonight!

I only just saw this, so apologies for the short notice!

The Delaware Art Museum's Curator of American Art, Heather Campbell Coyle - who knows Howard Pyle inside and out - is giving a talk tonight at the Reading Public Museum.

For more information, call 610-371-5850 x223. Reservations are required and the cost is $20 per member, $30 per non-member.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Blueskin Stands Up

“He lay silent and still, with his face half buried in the sand” (1890)

Howard Pyle painted “He lay silent and still, with his face half buried in the sand” for his story “Blueskin the Pirate” in 1890, and it was first published in that year’s Christmas issue of The Northwestern Miller.

About a decade later, when, it seems, Pyle was thinking of compiling his own proto-Book of Pirates (or at least some kind of collection of his stories), he asked for a copy of the magazine from its editor, William Cromwell Edgar. Edgar soon complied and on March 13, 1900, Pyle wrote to thank him:
It is always a matter of some dread to renew my acquaintance with my one-time-made illustrations, but this, although made more than ten years ago, seems to me to stand up remarkably well alongside my present work, and I am very glad that you should have so good an example.
The original - and much more luminous - black and white oil painting (23.25 x 15.25 inches) is now partly owned by the Brandywine River Museum.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pyle used to do that to his paintings now and then

I spent Friday in the Delaware Art Museum’s library and among the many things I looked at (again) were three enormous, leather-bound scrapbooks of Howard Pyle’s published work.

Pyle and his secretary Gertrude Brincklé seem to have started compiling them in 1910. The first leaves of Volume I feature Pyle’s own handwritten comments about some of his earliest printed things. But then he either lost interest, got distracted or too busy, or left for Italy, so Miss Brincklé must have done the bulk of the finding, trimming, gluing, and annotating. Most of her notes - besides basic bibliographical ones - concern the known owners of particular pictures and if she had posed for any of them. However (as I mentioned in my last post) she also wrote beneath at least a half dozen reproductions the disturbing words, “Destroyed by H.P.” or “Destroyed by Mr. Pyle”.

Now, in the course of my Pyle research I’ve been putting together the skeleton of a very rudimentary catalogue raisonnée (well, a checklist) of his pictures, so it’s always good to know where things have wound up. But it’s never pleasant to learn that certain things have been lost for good. I suppose that if Pyle considered his actions “justifiable picturacide” then we should accept the fate of what he deemed unworthy. Plenty of artists have done what he did, after all... But would if I could go back in time and rescue these from the trash or the furnace or wherever he disposed of them - despite their faults and Pyle’s low opinion.

Anyway, here’s a little memorial gallery for these six gone-but-not-fogotten paintings.

“He climbed the stairs slowly, for he was growing feeble”

From “The Story of Adhelmar” by James Branch Cabell
Harper’s Monthly Magazine, April 1904


“Catherine de Vaucelles, in her garden”

From “In Necessity’s Mortar” by James Branch Cabell
Harper’s Monthly Magazine, October 1904


“I know thy heart, that thou dost love me well”

From “The King’s Jewel” by James Edmund Dunning
Harper’s Weekly, December 10, 1904

Note: next to Miss Brincklé’s “Destroyed by Mr. Pyle" someone wrote a question mark, so maybe this one escaped the axe, after all?


“A man lay prone there, half turned upon his face” also known as “After the Battle”

From “Melicent” by Warwick Deeping
Harper’s Monthly Magazine, January 1905


“Sir John shook his spear at the ladies who sneered”

From “Melicent” by Warwick Deeping
Harper’s Monthly Magazine, January 1905


“With a cry, Shallum flung up his arms and jumped” also known as “A Leap from the Cliff”

From “An Amazing Belief” by Mrs. Henry Dudeney
Harper’s Monthly Magazine, April 1905


Ave atque vale!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Late Catherine de Vaucelles

“Catherine de Vaucelles, in her garden” by Howard Pyle (1904)

What do you think of this Howard Pyle painting? It’s not so bad, right? It’s hard to see in this off-register plate, but it’s got its strengths: the dress and the blossoms are handled nicely, the composition and color are interesting... Aren’t they?

I’ve shown this one before. In The New York Times Saturday Review of Books for October 22, 1904, it was singled out for some stinging criticism:
Here we have the picture of a Japanese doll, and - was ever such a thing heard of? - the doll has goitre. Not as yet a fully developed case; but it’s there, and is quite pronounced. The face is a blank wall; but there - dolls’ faces generally are devoid of expression. Some of the material left over from constructing the gown has been utilised in building a mouth. Was the moon an afterthought? It would seem so, for it is not night. Apple blossoms don't look like that by moonlight; neither does a red dress. At any rate, putting the moon there was a lucky hit - we might almost say an inspiration - for it draws the eye away from the doll-faced woman.
In fairness to Pyle, the above comments reflect more on the relatively primitive reproduction than on the painting itself. So it would help to see the original oil on canvas.

If only. It turns out that Pyle wasn’t very pleased with it, either. Yesterday, looking in one of Pyle’s scrapbooks at the Delaware Art Museum’s library I found “Catherine de Vaucelles, in her garden” and underneath the plate, his secretary Gertrude Brincklé had written: “Destroyed by H.P.”

I found five others - all published in 1904 and 1905 - with the same, sad note. I’ll memorialize them another time.