Thursday, May 2, 2013

Howard Pyle Meets Walter Crane

An illustration from Yankee Doodle by Howard Pyle (1881)

121 years ago today Howard Pyle met the celebrated British artist-illustrator-designer-decorator-author Walter Crane in Philadelphia.

Although Pyle’s known correspondence and writings are (so far) void of any Crane letters or mentions, Crane was clearly a big influence on Pyle - particularly on his work from the early 1880s, like Yankee Doodle, The Lady of Shalott and Pepper & Salt. And if Pyle didn’t necessarily acknowledge this, some critics did:
In the completeness and appropriateness of the cuts the book [Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood] reminds us of the best work of Mr. Walter Crane, and it can best be compared perhaps with Mr. Crane’s charming edition of the Grimm Fairy Tales... But as Mr. Crane’s art is thoroughly English Mr. Pyle’s is quite American. (The Literary World, September 22, 1883)
In 1891-92, Crane and a collection of his “Water-colours, Designs and Decorations” went on an extensive tour of the United States. In May they were in Philadelphia and Crane recalled in An Artist’s Reminiscences (1907):
My collection was shown at the Arts Club,...a dinner was given there in my honour and to inaugurate the opening. Among the guests I was interested to meet Mr. Howard Pyle, the distinguished artist, whose work I had so often admired in the American magazines. 
The champagne flowed very freely on this occasion as well as speeches, and nothing could exceed the hospitality of the Club. 
Altogether, we had a very good time at Philadelphia, and carried away many pleasant memories of the Quaker city.
Sounds like fun. But if only we knew what Pyle thought of the encounter, because a few months after it, a curious paragraph by Edward W. Bok (editor of the Ladies Home Journal) appeared in the Brooklyn Standard Union of December 24, 1892:
One thing is certain: no man has come over to us recently who created such an unfavorable impression with every one whom he met as did Walter Crane; and I say this with all due respect to Mr. Crane’s undoubted skill as an artist. But his personality struck every one as exceedingly disagreeable, and at no time have I heard of a single instance where he took the slightest pains to make himself agreeable. At two dinners at which Mr. Crane happened to, given, too, in his honor [sic], it seemed to me as if he threw a perfect damper upon both occasions. I recall one instance where Mr. Crane and Howard Pyle were thrown together, or, rather, seated next to each other at the table. Now, it is hard to imagine any one who could be unsusceptible to the deliciously frank and unrestrained charm of Howard Pyle’s conversation. But Mr. Crane was simply unmoved, the most unresponsive man in a delightful conversation I ever saw. I watched him closely upon this occasion and I actually believed that the man was bored more than he was interested. I have actually yet to hear of one kind thing said of Walter Crane in a social way during his American sojourn.
Maybe Pyle’s side of the story will turn up, one of these days.

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