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 MortĂ© 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 BrincklĂ©, October 17, 1919)