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 clich├ęd 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.