Tuesday, April 30, 2013

George Washington’s First Inauguration

“The Inauguration” by Howard Pyle, engraved by F. S. King

Today marks the 224th anniversary of George Washington’s first inauguration as president of the United States. The ceremony was held April 30, 1789, on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in the city of New York - then the new nation’s capitol.

Howard Pyle pictured this great event at least twice. He painted his first version, evidently, in the summer of 1888, not long after finishing his children’s book Otto of the Silver Hand. The black and white oil painting (about 23.5 x 16 inches) was then engraved on wood by Francis Scott King (1850-1913) and appeared in John Bach McMaster’s article “Washington’s Inauguration” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for April 1889.

At the same time the magazine was on the newsstands, Pyle’s painting was exhibited at the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington as First President of the United States at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, from April 17 to May 8, 1889. Eventually, it wound up in the hands of collector William F. Gable, then it was auctioned by Freeman’s in Philadelphia in 1932, and ultimately it wound up at The Mint Museum, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“The Inauguration” by Howard Pyle, via The Mint Museum

About a dozen years later, Pyle revisited the scene, ostensibly for Woodrow Wilson’s “Colonies and Nations,” then being serialized - and accompanied by 21 Pyle pictures - in Harper’s Monthly Magazine. In a March 28, 1901, letter to Wilson, Pyle suggested it as an illustration and explained: “I have already made an illustration for it for McMaster’s article, but I think I could represent the street in front of the old State House, a crowd of people and Washington on the balcony.”

Wilson approved of the idea and Pyle likely painted it sometime in April or May. For some unknown reason, however, it wasn’t reproduced in the magazine; rather, it appeared in the expanded, book version of Wilson’s articles, titled A History of the American People, published by Harper and Brothers in October 1902. Pyle’s black and white oil (23.5 x 15.5 inches) now belongs to the Delaware Art Museum.

“Inauguration of Washington at New York” by Howard Pyle

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Howard Pyle nudes are few and far between. This one come from the Library of Congress and a super-high-resolution version (43.1 MB) is available for download and microscopic inspection.

The story behind this pen and ink drawing is a mystery: it almost looks like something made for publication, but perhaps the publisher - or Pyle himself - found it too racy for Victorian or Edwardian eyes (or whatever the American equivalent would be). Or maybe it’s something Pyle whipped up at a stag evening of sketching with friends or students.

Tthe drawing depicts the lyre-playing Lorelei, whose legend is explained in an article that appeared in The Advance for November 9, 1905:
Perhaps, some of you have heard of the beautiful maiden who sat on a rock in the Rhine and sang such beautiful songs that the fishers who rowed past left their oars and gazed only at the lovely river nymph, until their boats were dashed to pieces on the rock. The Lorelei, for that was her name, is never heard now, but very few people Know what has become of her.

At first the Lorelei was a care-free river maid. Her greatest pleasure was to float on the rippling Rhine, or to sing joyous songs to the moon and stars. She knew nothing, and cared less, about the wide world. She loved her own beauty and liked to prove her power by enticing men to death in the depths of the Rhine. What did she care for mankind? They were nothing to her. At last a young knight appeared in a boat on the river. She saw him and loved nim, and without thinking of her fatal influence she began to sing. He turned his head, saw her, and leaped into the river to swim to the rock. She would have saved him, but it was too late. He was dragged down by the current and she saw his dying eyes still turned toward her. She dashed her lyre on the rocks and plunged into her cave.

When she again came forth into the upper air. her character was changed. How could she scatter death and destruction any longer? It was true, she had nothing to lose, for the only one she had ever loved was dead, but her love and her sorrow had made her feel for the rest of mankind, and she thought: “What if some mother or maiden waits in a far-off cottage for her loved one, and wails in vain, because I have enticed him into the whirlpool.” So she left her rock in the river, anj, as it is written in the Btory, was never seen again. She laid aside her magic beauty and wanders, a simple maiden, through the world. In sorrow for the woe she has caused she does her best to comfort all the Borrowing. Never again in the daytime did she appear on the enchanted rock. Only sometimes, at night, when the moon and stars are hidden under stonnclouds and no boats can be seen on the Rhine, she returns to her old home, and seated ion the rock, sings sad songs of love and parting. But she always departs before morning, to return to the busy, working, sorrowing world.