Tuesday, December 30, 2014

“A mug, a pipe and a pleasant Friend or two”

In his 1918 history of New York City’s venerable Salmagundi Club, club librarian William Henry Shelton recalled a proposal he had made at the turn of the last century “which was the beginning of one of the most interesting customs of the club and one which has furnished the library with an ample income from that day to this.”
The idea suggested was that twenty-four mugs or steins be decorated each year and sold at auction at the library dinner for the benefit of the library. Each member of the club at that time had his own private mug, decorated by himself, or for him by a professional friend, with his name burned in under the glaze at the Volkmar Pottery. These suggested the library mugs, and limiting the yearly output for the library sale was a plan to keep up prices.
Although Howard Pyle was not a particularly active Salmagundian, he decorated at least two such mugs, the first in 1902 (which I discussed here) and the second on Saturday, December 30, 1905. We know the exact date because he hand-lettered it thus:
A mug, a pipe and a pleasant friend or two. Pray God send me the three. Drawn by Howard Pyle Dec. 30, 1905.
It’s not clear, however, if Pyle did his decorating at the club itself or in Wilmington and then shipped the unfired mug to New York, just as Edwin Austin Abbey (and perhaps other out-of-town contributors) had done. Pyle may well have been in New York that day - either to lecture at the Art Students’ League, and/or to hammer out his plan to take over McClure’s Magazine’s art department - but I have yet to find corroborating evidence.

At any rate, the mug was finally auctioned off on April 17, 1906. Shelton remembered:
There was a sharp contest in the bidding for the Abbey mug and also for a mug by Howard Pyle. Mr. George A. Hearn had sent in a bid of two hundred and fifty dollars for the Abbey mug. The two coveted pieces of delft, however, went into Mr. Saltus’s collection, the Abbey for four hundred and sixty-one dollars and the Pyle for two hundred and sixty dollars. This was real bidding, which was not always the case, as, for instance, in the following year a mug decorated by F. Luis Mora sold at the dinner-table for five hundred and five dollars. This was a sum sent over by Mr. Saltus, who was then in Nice, with the simple direction, “Buy me a mug.” He wished to place that sum in the library and he wished to do it in his own way. As it was known that he always wished his undivided contribution to be expended for one mug, it was the custom to begin the sale by offering the first choice, and when these large sums had to be expended on one mug there was an amusing competition of irresponsible bids, by such of us as were in the secret, until the desired sum was reached.
A syndicated news item about the sale noted that “Mr. Howard Pyle’s mug shows the fat and rosy face of an old time drinker and smoker.” And The New York Times of April 18, 1906, said, “Howard Pyle’s contribution shows the round, rosy face of a high roller of olden days, who looks as if he enjoyed his pipe and the flowing bowl.”

A number of the mugs J. Sanford Saltus purchased were given back to the club, but this one fell through the cracks and its present whereabouts are a mystery. Let’s just hope it didn’t fall on the floor.

The photo above - from the Salmagundi Club’s mug record book - is the only one that I’ve seen.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

“No American Writer Can Come Within Touch of You”

Howard Pyle’s fondness for the writings of William Dean Howells is well documented - mostly in Pyle’s own correspondence. On October 30, 1895, Pyle wrote yet another glowing letter to his literary idol, mentor, and friend:
My wife and I are reading your Shaker story together. I was so much impressed with the first number that I sat down immediately and wrote Harry Harper what I so strongly felt - that it only added to my already formed opinion that no American writer can come within touch of you. The measure of your success lies far beyond the radius of the present into the vaster cycle of the future....

The first number of your story was startlingly true to nature, the succeeding numbers are charmingly idyllic.
“Your Shaker story” was “The Day of Their Wedding” which appeared in seven weekly installments (or “numbers”) in Harper’s Bazar between October 5 and November 16, 1895. And “Harry Harper” was J. Henry Harper, a friend of both Howells and Pyle, and a member of the publishing firm.

Pyle had, in fact, expressed a similar sentiment in a letter of February 26 that same year: “I do not of course know what are your present rewards of popularity but I feel very sure that you are writing for future readers.” Over the past century, however, Howells’ stock hasn’t performed quite as well as Pyle thought it would.

But now, future readers, why not read the novel yourselves and put Pyle’s assessment to the test?

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Birthday Card for Theodore Roosevelt

Although I have yet to find out when exactly Howard Pyle and Theodore Roosevelt first met (the earliest known in-the-same-room-at-the-same-time instance was at a January 1896 dinner in honor of Owen Wister), by 1898 Pyle was referring to the then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy as “my friend”.

Their bond, I gather, had its roots in their mutual love of history, but after 1901 Pyle also became an enthusiastic supporter of then-President Roosevelt’s policies. In addition to Pyle’s occasional visits to the White House, the two exchanged letters and favors over the years, and on the eve of Roosevelt’s turning 50, Pyle sent him the drawing shown here, which prompted the following thank-you note:
October 27, 1908.

My dear Mr. Pyle:

Who could have a more beautiful birthday card? I shall prize it always for its own sake and still more for the sake of the donor.

Always your friend,

Theodore Roosevelt
Pyle’s original pen-and-ink drawing now belongs to the Theodore Roosevelt Collection in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Pyle on Barye and Wyeth

In a post two years ago, I quoted Howard Pyle’s thoughts on the sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye, but I want to expand on that post to show why he brought Barye up in the first place.

On August 29, 1904, 21-year-old N. C. Wyeth brought in the charcoal drawing seen here for Pyle’s weekly composition lecture.

According to Ethel Pennewill Brown and Olive Rush - who took notes during these lectures - Pyle said something like this that day:
Now, Mr. Wyeth this lacks just a little of being a great composition. In the main it is well told, but you have been a little overdramatic with your figures.

A panther crouching to spring on his victim is not possessed of passion but merely a desire to eat. He is cool, calculating, hungry.

Barye is one of the very few who have rightly expressed the animal nature.

I recall a thing by him of greyhounds killing hares. One of the hounds had a hare in its strong jaws and was crunching it in a cold-blooded way - absolutely without any feeling or passion.

A wild beast devouring another take its food in a way natural to it, as a tree absorbs moisture, rather than as a creature bent on revenge.

When you throw your own self into the animal you make him human. You should consider him a being different from yourself.

The action of the Indian, too, is overstated.

He knows escape is impossible and his only hope lies in meeting the attack. So he would not lean back [sic] as you have him but would instinctively brace himself for the blow.
It’s possible that Wyeth subsequently altered this composition, but I’m inclined to think that it looks now as it did 110 years ago - despite the fact that the Indian is leaning forward, not back.

“Greyhound and Hare” by Antoine-Louis Barye

The picture of Wyeth’s drawing comes via the Brandywine River Museum. The original belongs to the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art (Paulus Leeser, photographer; Courtesy of Nicholas Wyeth, Inc.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Valley Forge Picnic, 1899

There are few more iconic photographs of Howard Pyle and his pupils, perhaps, than the one shown here. Its appeal has a lot to do with Miss Bertha Corson Day’s over-the-shoulder gaze, inviting countless viewers into the scene, ever since the photo was taken 115 years ago.

In fact, by my reckoning, the photo was taken 115 years ago today, on August 20, 1899, in or en route to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

At the time, Pyle was conducting the second Summer School of Illustration under the auspices of the Drexel Institute. Their home base was Chadds Ford, but frequently they would mount their “wheels” (including a recently acquired tandem bicycle or two) or climb aboard a carriage and set off to explore the surrounding countryside, to observe the effects of color and light on the trees and streams and hills, to sketch - and to eat.

In a letter of Sunday, August 6, 1899, Pyle’s student Frank Schoonover wrote:
Next Sunday we all go to Valley Forge, some on wheels others in a 4 seated carriage - two tandems, Mr. Pyle steering one, I the other, he considers so he says, me the most skilled and strongest rider among the boys - except [Philip L.] Hoyt - who is a hard rider. Mr. Pyle’s ideas sometimes are a bit off color, and while I’m very far from being the best rider, still he thinks so - let him think.
“Next Sunday” indicates August 13, but the plans changed - The Philadelphia Record’s forecast that day was for “weather unsettled” - and Miss Day noted in her diary that the trip actually occurred on Sunday, August 20, 1899. It also happened to be the day she turned 24, but for some reason she “told no one here that it was my birthday.” Instead, she secretly celebrated it by “riding the tandem with Mr. Pyle in relays from here to the Forge and back. 50 miles. Home by moonlight” [the moon was full or nearly so on August 20, by the way] and they “did not reach home till after midnight.”

This photograph has been reprinted several times over the years, but some of the sitters have been misidentified. Here is my take, from left to right:
Philip L. Hoyt (with glasses)
Frank Schoonover (with cap)
Anna Whelan Betts (with turned-away face)
Howard Pyle (with cap and white turtleneck)
Robert Lindsay Mason (with dark hat)
Bertha Corson Day (looking at us)
Sarah S. Stilwell (with braided pony tail)
Annie Hailey (holding glass)
Emlen McConnell (with necktie)
Ellen Bernard Thompson (in profile)
faceless woman: probably Pyle’s secretary Anna W. Hoopes
Missing from the group are Stanley Arthurs and Clyde DeLand - one of whom was probably the photographer.

In researching this post, I noticed that the Bertha Corson Day Bates’ papers at Delaware Art Museum contain a print of the above photo, titled “Howard Pyle and students, picnicking par terre” and also one called “Pyle and students at picnic table, Valley Forge” - a cyanotype version of the photo below, which I spoke about here.

Having assumed the photo was taken somewhere in Chadds Ford, I didn’t trust the title, but now I see that it was indeed taken at Valley Forge and - I’ll wager - later in the day on August 20, 1899. The setting is the rear or east side of the Isaac Potts House, better known as Washington’s Headquarters.

Here is a photo of that side of the house (via fineartamerica.com), taken around the same time, but in winter and from the opposite point of view. But note the leaning tree, the stonework and shutters, and the white path:

Here, too, is another shot taken on the west side of the house, but showing the clapboard building seen in the Pyle class photo. That building can also be seen on page 88 of this document.

But why do I think the two photos of Pyle’s class were taken the same day? Because - as indicated in the papers of Schoonover and Day - it was the only journey to Valley Forge taken by the entire class in the summer of 1899. Plus, although folks didn’t change their clothes all that frequently in those days, there are many similarities in the outfits seen in both shots.

By the way, among other work being done by Pyle’s students at this time, Frank Schoonover was making his very first book illustrations for A Jersey Boy in the Revolution by Everett T. Tomlinson, published later that year by Houghton, Mifflin & Co. In fact, that same week, Schoonover - who had turned 22 the day before the Valley Forge trip - was painting the picture seen here, “A ball had crashed through the side.” It was the second of the set of four and his letters indicate that Pyle himself added a few brushstrokes - or more - to it.

Of course, Valley Forge was not unfamiliar territory for Howard Pyle: his earliest known visit was in 1879, when he was illustrating “Some Pennsylvania Nooks” by Ella Rodman Church for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (April 1880), and perhaps he went again in 1896 for his picture of George Washington and General Steuben, or when painting “My dear,” said General Washington, “Captain Prescott’s behavior was inexcusable” for “Love at Valley Forge” (The Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1896); and he had also visited earlier that summer of 1899 (on July 9, with Arthurs, Hoyt, and McConnell - perhaps on a test run). Some ten years later, he returned again with his wife, son Godfrey, and a few friends and left “his mark” in the Washington Memorial Chapel guestbook.

And not long after Pyle’s death, a few of his historical artifacts wound up there, too: according to the 1912 Historical and Topographical Guide to Valley Forge by William Herbert Burk, “The most recent acquisitions are from the Howard Pyle collection - original uniforms and costumes used by the artist in his studies of Colonial life.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Howard Pyle Filled Out His Son’s Birth Record

Howard Pyle’s third child, Theodore Pyle, was born 125 years ago today. His birth record (via Familysearch.org) was filled out by Pyle himself:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Teddy Roosevelt Checks In With Mrs. Pyle

If you scroll through the Theodore Roosevelt Papers at the Library of Congress, you’ll find this kindly letter to Howard Pyle’s widow - written one hundred years ago today:

Oyster Bay, N.Y., July 18, 1914.

My dear Mrs. Pyle:

Mrs. Roosevelt wrote you some time ago and had no answer. I am writing you now merely to find out how you are and how you are getting along. You know how I valued your husband, and I do wish to know a little bit how life is going with you.

Faithfully yours,

Theodore Roosevelt

Mrs. Howard Pyle,
Wilmington, Del.
When I went a-scrolling myself a long while back, I was unable to find a copy of Mrs. Roosevelt’s letter, or one Mrs. Pyle may or may not have sent in reply to this one. But I like the idea of the former president remembering his friend - and reaching out to his widow - that summer day.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Howard Pyle’s Werewolf

“The Werewolf” by Howard Pyle in The Ladies’ Home Journal for March 1896

Werewolf? There wolf. (There - no, there, in the middle foreground of the picture - just squint a little and you’ll see it.)

Yes, who knew that Howard Pyle had painted one? But so he did, to illustrate “The Werewolf” by the Chicago poet and humorist Eugene Field, who perhaps is best remembered for “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” and “The Duel” (also known as “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat”).

Pyle met Field at least once, at a dinner honoring Thomas Bailey Aldrich at The Aldine Club in New York on March 24, 1893, where the other guests included James Whitcomb Riley, Frank R. Stockton, Charles Dudley Warner, and William Dean Howells - all of whom had made significant contributions to the “juvenile literature” of the period. Whether they had met before or after or regularly corresponded, I don’t yet know, but on November 3, 1895, Pyle inscribed a copy of his newly-published novel, The Garden Behind the Moon, “To Eugene Field, My fellow worker in the world of Art” and added (in his confusingly hifalutin way):
For as the spoken word is like a breath of wind that maybe stirs the world around to agitation that soon is still again, so is the written word like a stone of rock cut out from the bosom of humanity, to endure for generations and for ages.

And as a pebble cast into the sea shall cause a movement to be felt in the uttermost parts of the waters for ever, so shall our work, cast into the bosom of futurity cause its motive to be felt to the furthermost ebb and flood of Eternity.

How great then, O! brother, our endeavour for good and for truth.

Inscription from Howard Pyle to Eugene Field, November 3, 1895 (via Bonhams)

But Field never read this: the day after Pyle inscribed the book, Field suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 45. Shocked, Pyle sent both the book and a letter “expressing his deep sympathies and fond memories” to the Field’s widow on November 10th. “That you appreciated his lofty aims[,] his nobility of thought[,] his humane efforts and the success that crowned them is shown in your words,” wrote Mrs. Field later that month, and she assured Pyle “of a lasting place in my thoughts for Gene’s sake” and called The Garden Behind the Moon “a story after my own heart.”

Then came “The Werewolf.” According to a syndicated news item, Field had been writing and rewriting the story since 1884:
His last revision pleased him and he decided to print it. But death came too suddenly, and the story was found, unpublished, among his effects. Mrs. Field, concluding to have the story appear, gave it to the editor of The Ladies Home Journal, in which magazine all of Mr. Field’s work, outside of his newspaper articles, was presented to the public.
And of course it needed to be illustrated. An article in the January 3, 1943, edition of The Sunday Morning Star of Wilmington, Delaware, quoted “a Wilmington man” who had been an associate editor of the The Ladies’ Home Journal and who recalled his 1895 visit to Pyle:
It is remembered that Mr. Pyle’s working quarters were crowded with costumes, guns and ships of the Revolutionary era. I was advised that Mr. Pyle was always busy, and it was a difficult assignment for the youthful editor of a magazine. However, the artist consented to make the picture after learning that it was to illustrate the last literary work of the Chicago poet and humorist. Mr. Pyle admitted that he was an admirer of Field, and inasmuch as the story suggested just the type of drawing that he had been anxious to make he accepted the commission and was authorized to write his own check.

The illustration was for “The Werewolf” and it was believed that it represented the best work of Mr. Pyle as well as the best story by the author of “Little Boy Blue,” and it was so regarded by admirers of both artistic and author. The illustration was lauded greatly, for Mr. Pyle had drawn the ghost of a snarling wolf, fitting the text admirably.
The fee is not known, but it included publication rights and “The Werewolf” painting itself. And Pyle must have painted it sometime between mid- or late November 1895 and January 1896, since by February it was on display in Chicago in a travelling exhibition of illustrations made for the Journal. In a review of the show, the Inter Ocean of Sunday, February 1, 1896, called Pyle’s painting “a weird, uncanny-looking thing, possessing strange fascination.” The next day, the same paper noted:
In this work Mr. Pyle experimented using red and black oils on canvas. The result is something weird and fascinating. In the foreground is the fabled monster, the “were-wolf,” a horrible creature dimly outlined; in the background is a party of pleasure-seekers, terror-stricken, fleeing for their lives. The scene is laid in a dark and dreary wood.
That same day, the Chicago Tribune said:
A striking picture in oil by Howard Pyle to illustrate “The Werewolf,” an unpublished tale by Eugene Field, is the strongest thing in the collection. Indeed, it is said Pyle himself regards it as the best work he has ever done.
It was admired by other attendees of the exhibit as well, including members of Field’s family. On February 27, 1896, his sister-in-law Henrietta Dexter Field wrote Pyle “to express the admiration and deep appreciation both my husband, Roswell Field, and myself have for the beautiful illustration you designed for ‘The Werewolf’”:
We saw the painting at “The Ladies Home Journal” exhibition of pictures here and were more than gratified that the public seemed to appreciate its beauties, as there were always crowds standing before it. If Eugene were here I feel sure that he would be more than pleased that you caught his idea so beautifully, and he doubtless would write you words of appreciation more suitable than these, whose only merit lies in the expression of the love of a sorrowing brother and sister.
The Chicago exhibition slightly pre-dated the publication of the picture in The Ladies’ Home Journal for March 1896, where - in a halftone plate engraved by Albert Munford Lindsay (who, I might add, attended some of Pyle’s illustration classes at the Drexel Institute and visited Pyle at his home at about this time) - it was wordily titled, “The werewolf skulked for a moment in the shadow of the yews, and Yseult plucked old Siegfried’s spear from her girdle.” Echoing the Inter Ocean, The New York Times of March 11, 1896, called it “a weird drawing...that is mystic and suggestive while thoroughly original.”

And, indeed, Pyle liked it enough to borrow it back from the publisher for his one-man shows at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia and the St. Botolph Club in Boston in 1897. The following year it was exhibited in Washington, D.C. - and perhaps elsewhere - again under the auspices of the The Ladies’ Home Journal. The Curtis Publishing Company (publisher of Journal) also issued it as a 12 x 15" print around the same time.

But then a fog rolls into the painting’s history: the anonymous associate editor quoted above also said, “It was long carefully displayed in the editor’s office” - and I assume, here, he was referring to editor-in-chief Edward W. Bok - “but [then it] mysteriously disappeared, and all attempts to relocate it have failed.”

Somehow, however, it wound up in the possession of Charles William Hargens, Jr. (1893-1997) and his wife Marjorie Allen (Garman) Hargens (1895-1978), illustrators both, who lived for many years in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. And then it went to their son, engineer Charles William Hargens III (1918-2013), and then to his estate.

And now it’s for sale: Freeman’s will auction the painting in Philadelphia on June 8, 2014. The estimate is $8,000-12,000. I consider that to be conservative, considering its size - 18 x 24 inches - and relative importance - but we’ll soon find out!

“The Werewolf” by Howard Pyle (via Freeman’s)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Howard Pyle and Arthur Conan Doyle, Part 1

My interest in Howard Pyle owes a lot to my interest in Arthur Conan Doyle. When I was 11 or 12, I became obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and soon began collecting everything I could find - and afford - that had even the slightest mention of either the character or his creator (and of course by “creator” I mean “Dr. Watson’s Literary Agent”).

A few years in, I bought a bound volume of Harper’s Monthly from 1893 because it contained the serialization of Conan Doyle’s The Refugees with illustrations by Thure de Thulstrup. Although I didn’t read the novel nor did I find de Thulstrup’s illustrations that intriguing, I was drawn to - and kept revisiting - some other pictures in the book and I wanted to find more pictures and to learn more about their maker, Howard Pyle. So I did, and near my Sherlock Holmes-Conan Doyle shelves a little “Pyle pile” started to form.

Some of my initial Pyle purchases were “crossover” items like that bound Harper’s Monthly, or Collier’s cheap editions of The Green Flag, or the only two Conan Doyle pieces ever illustrated by Pyle - the novella The Parasite and the poem “A Forgotten Tale” - but, before long, my Pyle obsession had superseded all others.

Still, I’ve never completely shaken my initial addiction, and I often wonder what Howard Pyle’s illustrations for the Sherlock Holmes stories - or for Conan Doyle’s historical fiction - would have been like. I also wonder if the two ever met or corresponded: after all, the publication of Pyle’s Conan Doyle illustrations coincided with the latter’s visit to America in the fall of 1894, where he met a number of people Pyle knew. But, so far, I’ve come up with nothing.

Shown here is one of Pyle’s four illustrations for The Parasite, which was serialized in Harper’s Weekly. This piece - “‘Austin,’ she said, ‘I have come to tell you our engagement is at an end’” - appeared in the November 10, 1894, issue and the 10.2 x 8.4" halftone engraving was by William Kurtz. I think it hints bittersweetly at what could have been, if only Harper & Brothers had picked Pyle instead of (meh!) William Henry Hyde to illustrate the miscellaneous Sherlock Holmes tales published in the Weekly in 1893.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Howard Pyle Meets With John Sloan, May 1, 1906

According to his diary, John Sloan met Howard Pyle on this day in 1906. Sloan, then, was making his living as an illustrator, but also painting and etching like mad on the side. Howard Pyle, meanwhile, was enduring an odd stint in his life as the Art Editor of McClure’s Magazine, located at 44 East 23rd Street in New York City. (Incidentally, another probable occupant of the offices that same day was Willa Cather, who had recently joined the magazine’s staff and who had also recently presented Pyle with a copy of her book The Troll Garden.) After meeting with Pyle, Sloan wrote:
Made my first call on Howard Pyle, who is now Art Editor of McClure’s Magazine. Showed him my proofs, illustrations, etc. He treated me with courtesy. Said my work was good in “character” but just at present, you know - everything - not giving out much work - supplied ahead, etc., etc. Call again.
The two men may have met before, perhaps during one art function or another in Philadelphia in the 1890s, though this is the only documented encounter I’ve been able to locate. And Sloan’s sister Marianna is rumored to have been one of Pyle’s students (at least according to the Syracuse Post-Standard of February 14, 1904). Even so, Sloan didn’t sound very encouraged. Two weeks after that meeting - and in the wake of a crisis at the McClure offices - Sloan noted that, despite the exodus of a large chunk of the staff, including muckraking superstars Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell: “H. Pyle remains, I fear. Little chance for my work under the ‘boilermaker.’”

Ouch. Was Sloan reflecting on the steady stream of illustrators from Pyle’s “big art manufactory [sic]” (as Pyle student George Harding referred to it), who virtually flooded the market with what some artists no doubt deemed a clichéd way of making pictures? Maybe so.

The magazine did, however, publish a story, “The Debts of Antoine” by W. B. MacHarg, with Sloan’s pictures - dated ’06 - in the December 1906 issue. Whether Pyle commissioned these or not, I don’t yet know, but Sloan considered it “joyful news” when Pyle resigned from McClure’s that August.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Some “Occasional Comics” by Howard Pyle

“I used to earn a little odd money by drawing an occasional comic,” wrote Howard Pyle in his scrapbook about some of the work he did when he first moved to New York in the fall of 1876. “The Night Watch” (above) was one such drawing, published as “Family Cares” in Scribner’s Monthly for April 1877. “Bliss” (below) was another, which appeared in the same magazine the following month.

From Pyle’s letters home, we know that he drew these two in November 1876. Another picture - so stylistically close to these that Pyle most likely made it at about the same time - was printed in the July 1877 issue of Scribner’s Monthly with the vague title, “A Quotation from ‘King Lear’”.

The original pen-and-ink was, I thought, last heard of when it was sold at auction by Scott & O’Shaughnessy in New York City on April 27, 1916. But, in poking around online, I came across it, semi-misidentified - but viewable here in a nice, high-resolution scan - in the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

Along the side of the drawing we see - in Pyle’s handwriting - what was probably his intended caption: “‘Take physic, pomp (Pomp)’ (King Lear: Act III: Scene IV.” I can’t explain the double “pomp” or why the caption wasn’t printed. Perhaps Scribner’s Monthly’s editors - either Josiah Gilbert Holland, Richard Watson Gilder, or Robert Underwood Johnson - assumed their magazine’s readers were versed well enough in Shakespeare to get the “joke” without the quotation itself. I, for one, am pretty thick-witted, so I can’t gauge how funny it is - or if it’s funny at all. And when it comes to his Shakespeare-themed pictures, it’s sort of a shame that Pyle - who loved Shakespeare’s works and times and long-wished to illustrate the Sonnets, but never did - left only this crude, stereotype-ridden “comic” behind.

The extended quote, by the way, is from Lear himself and goes:
Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

Howard Pyle and Teddy Roosevelt Do Lunch Revamped

I revamped a post I wrote four years ago about Theodore Roosevelt’s day 110 years ago today - which included lunch with Howard Pyle. I even added some pictures.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Queen of Ireland seeks to slay Sir Tristram

A semi-desperate attempt on my part to post something “Irish” on this St. Patrick’s Day: “The Queen of Ireland seeks to slay Sir Tristram” comes from Howard Pyle’s second volume of his Arthuriad, The Story of the Champions of the Round Table, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1905.

As far as I know, the original pen-and-ink has yet to surface on the market or in a museum. It’s an interesting composition and it takes some staring at to make sense of what’s going on. Or one could simply read the passage it illustrates:
Now whilst Sir Tristram was in that bath, the Queen [of Ireland] and Belle Isoult looked all about his chamber. And they beheld the sword of Sir Tristram where it lay, for he had laid it upon the bed when he had unlatched the belt to make himself ready for that bath. Then the Queen said to the Lady Belle Isoult, “See what a great huge sword this is,” and thereupon she lifted it and drew the blade out of its sheath, and she beheld what a fair, bright, glistering sword it was. Then in a little she saw where, within about a foot and a half from the point, there was a great piece in the shape of a half-moon broken out of the edge of the sword; and she looked at that place for a long while. Then of a sudden she felt a great terror, for she remembered how even such a piece of sword as that which had been broken off from that blade, she had found in the wound of Sir Marhaus of which he had died. So she stood for a while holding that sword of Sir Tristram in her hand and looking as she had been turned into stone. At this the Lady Belle Isoult was filled with a sort of fear, wherefore she said, “Lady, what ails you?” The Queen said, “Nothing that matters,” and therewith she laid aside the sword of Sir Tristram and went very quickly to her own chamber. There she opened her cabinet and took thence the piece of sword-blade which she had drawn from the wound of Sir Marhaus, and which she had kept ever since. With this she hurried back to the chamber of Sir Tristram, and fitted that piece of the blade to the blade; and lo! it fitted exactly, and without flaw.

Upon that the Queen was seized as with a sudden madness; for she shrieked out in a very loud voice, “Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!” saying that word three times. Therewith she snatched up the sword of Sir Tristram and she ran with great fury into the room where he lay in his bath. And she beheld him where he was there all naked in his bath, and therewith she rushed at him and lashed at him with his sword. But Sir Tristram threw himself to one side and so that blow failed of its purpose. Then the Queen would have lashed at him again or have thrust him through with the weapon; but at that Gouvernail and Sir Helles ran to her and catched her and held her back, struggling and screaming very violently. So they took the sword away from her out of her hands, and all the while she shrieked like one gone entirely distracted.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Testimonials to Howard Pyle

In honor of Howard Pyle’s 161st birthday, here are a few kind words from some of his friends and admirers:

“You write about a beautiful sheet in the Graphic by Howard Pyle. If you mean a composition that reminds one of Terborch or Nicolaas Keyzer - ‘Penn and the Colonists’ - yes, I was struck by it too, so much so that I have ordered the issue. Yes, it is a damned fine thing.” (Vincent Van Gogh to Anthon Ridder van Rappard, c.May 9, 1883)

“It was not so much the actual things he taught us as contact with his personality that really counted. Somehow after a talk with him you felt inspired to go out and do great things, and wondered afterwards by what magic he did it” (Maxfield Parrish to Richard Wayne Lykes, March 28, 1945)

“I haven’t before had a chance to express to you my very heart felt admiration for your noble series of illustrations for my ‘Washington.’ They dignify and illuminate the work in every way.” (Woodrow Wilson to Howard Pyle, October 27, 1896)

“The virility and poetry and the beauty of it are remarkable” (Augustus Saint-Gaudens to Howard Pyle, June 20, 1902)

“It was a great idea, a fortunate idea, to re-write the Round Table Tales, & I am your grateful servant. You are giving them a new charm & grace & beauty; they have gained, not lost, under your hand. They were never so finely told in prose before. And then the pictures - one can never tire of examining them & studying them. Long ago you made the best Robin Hood that was ever written, & your Morté d’Arthur is going to be another masterpiece. It was a great idea; I am glad it was born to you.” (Samuel L. Clemens to Howard Pyle, January 1, 1903)

“Will Mr. Howard Pyle accept through me the love of seven big and little children to whom he taught the beauty of language and of line, and to whom, in a desert place, he sent the precious message of Romance.” (Willa Cather inscription to Howard Pyle in The Troll Garden, April 26, 1906)

“Eleven and twelve years old we were, most of us, but I’ll wager no one of us has forgotten him, no one of us but has looked back on those wintry afternoons in the pleasant fire-lighted studio many times, realizing how vital a part of our background, literary and artistic, it has become. I was at boarding school when the news of his death in Florence reached me, and I knew then I had lost a very real friend.” (Virginia Kirkus in The Horn Book Magazine, November 1929)

“One of the very best men I know anywhere, one of the pleasantest companions, stanchest friends, and best citizens, is Mr. Howard Pyle, the artist.” (Theodore Roosevelt to Gifford Pinchot, September 9, 1907)

“I think that pirate duel is the most terrific thing I ever saw. I had almost all the sensations I have enjoyed at a prize fight. Oh if I were only a pluto I’d have that in the middle of my shack and when I wanted to be lifted out of the dreary run of existence I would take a look.” (Frederic Remington to Howard Pyle, November 13, 1908)

“There are many in this world who radiate the feeling of love and earnestness of purpose, but who have not the faculty or power to impart the rudiments of accomplishment. There is nothing in this world to inspire the integrity of youth like the combined strength of spirituality and practical headway. It gives the young student a definite clew, as it were, to the usefulness of being upright and earnest. Howard Pyle abounded in this combined power, and lavished it upon all who were serious.” (N. C. Wyeth in The Christian Science Monitor. November 13, 1912)

“I myself have always wondered that more people were not affected by Mr. Pyle’s piercing fineness of spiritual vision.... I don’t know any other American who had his extraordinary combination of fine qualities.” (Dorothy Canfield Fisher to Charles David Abbott, May 20, 1925)

“The battle picture at St. Paul is absolutely one of the most remarkable pictures of modern times.... You, of course, know of Mr. Pyle’s work through his illustrations, but unless you know the man personally you cannot realize what a perfectly charming fellow he is and how very beautiful and strong his paintings. He seems to cover a very wide range of subjects with absolute surety, and while preserving historic detail he never loses vitality and intense personal quality, while his sense of the decorative and the picturesque is most remarkable.” (Cass Gilbert to Ralph Adams Cram, December 31, 1907)

“It is quite unnecessary for you to talk to me about Howard Pyle, for there is no man in the United States for whom I have a more profound admiration.” (Ralph Adams Cram to Cass Gilbert, January 2, 1908)

“I have never valued a friend more.” (William Dean Howells to Gertrude Brincklé, October 17, 1919)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Howard Pyle’s Boots

I’ve mentioned my mini-obsession with Howard Pyle’s boots before. They’re the ones that show up again and again in over 25 years’ worth of Pyle’s pictures - and then, perhaps more famously, in Andrew Wyeth’s “Trodden Weed.” Well, now you can see the boots themselves in a BBC documentary on Wyeth hosted by Michael Palin - at about the 17:25 minute mark. (Later on, too - starting at 47:58 - Pyle’s summer home at Chadd’s Ford is featured when Palin visits its later owners, the Sipalas.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Howard Pyle Didn’t Sleep Here

“Ruins of Old Post Tavern” by Howard Pyle (1879)

In the summer of 1879, two 26-year-olds set off to Maryland to gather data for an article on the Old National Pike. One was Liverpool-born writer William Henry Rideing, who would supply the text, and the other was artist Howard Pyle, who would illustrate it.

As documented in “The Old National Pike” (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, November 1879), Rideing and Pyle’s westward journey began in Frederick, Maryland, and more or less ended about 125 miles in Cumberland. Incidentally, some better-informed historians have argued that that stretch of road wasn’t even a part of the National Pike, since Cumberland officially represented its eastern terminus - but that’s a debate for another time or place.

At any rate, in Frederick they hired a coach and driver to take them Cumberlandward, stopping here and there along the way so Rideing could interview people who knew the “Road” and its history, and so Pyle could draw the interviewees and old buildings.

Unfortunately, Pyle’s published illustrations of those buildings are, for the most part, vaguely titled, like his “Ruins of Old Post Tavern” (above). Rideing’s text, however, shows it to be the remains of the elusive “Mrs. Bevans’s” - where they had hoped to find a bed and a meal or two:
Between Hancock and Cumberland the road is almost deserted, and there is no tavern in over forty miles. We were told that we might find accommodations for the night at “Mrs. Bevans’s,” and as the day sped, and our horses showed the effects of toiling over mountain after mountain, Mrs. Bevans became a tremendous object of interest to us. Near sundown when the silent valleys were flooded with the golden light of the afternoon, it was evident that our team was unfit to go much farther; but no habitation was in sight, although from time to time we saw an abandoned toll-house or tavern, and once we met a freckled boy, who said it was about five miles to “Mrs. Bevans’s.” We continued on for over six miles, and then we met a freckled and angular man, who said “Mrs. Bevans’s” was about three miles farther. We labored over another mountain and down a rocky road, inclosed by the gloomy pines. At the foot, in a hollow, was a splendid old tavern, unroofed, moss-grown, windowless, and doorless. This was “Mrs. Bevans’s” in the past, and at one side of it, in contrast with its massive masonry, was a small cabin of two rooms, with some six or seven unappetizing children about the door; this was the “Mrs. Bevans’s” of the present. It was out of the question; the children took the edge off our hunger, and we urged the horses farther on, being informed that we would find a farm-house on the summit of the next mountain.
Since “Mrs. Bevans’s” was already a ruin in 1879, I thought that finding any subsequent trace of it was hopeless. But Thomas B. Searight, in his The Old Pike - A History of the National Road (1894), states:
At the foot of Town Hill, on the west side, Henry Bevans kept a tavern. It was a wagon stand, and likewise a station for one of the stage lines. The house stood on the north side of the road, and enjoyed a good trade.
Then after some more searching, I came across a photograph of the very same site, taken five years after the Rideing-Pyle trip by another pair of travellers, Thomas Dwight Biscoe (1840-1930) and his brother Walter Stanley Biscoe (1853-1933).

“Old ruin of a grand house near bottom of Town Ridge looking back on our road” (1884)

The photo (owned by Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library, where you can see a higher-resolution scan) is titled “Old ruin of a grand house near bottom of Town Ridge [sic] looking back on our road” and in parentheses “Bevansvill[e].”

To the left of the ruin is the same white-washed cabin Pyle depicted. And in the window and foreground we see, perhaps, a few of the same “unappetizing” children Rideing described.