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)


kev ferrara said...

Great story, well researched. I had never seen this Pyle pic before. A great treat!


Ian Schoenherr said...

Thanks, Kev - It's certainly an odd one. Pyle painted it, by the way, at the same time as he was illustrating Woodrow Wilson's "George Washington" articles for Harper's Monthly.

Ian Schoenherr said...

Also around the same time, Pyle was much interested in Japanese art - two letters from him to photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston indicate that, at least.

Paul Preston Davis said...

This was fantastic! Research at its best. And even better ... great reading. One does not want to take ones eyes away until the final word. This is your Blog telling you it is time to morph into a digital interactive resource with major search capability. The ultimate Blog book.
Paul Preston Davis

kev ferrara said...

I can't say this is among my favorite Pyles, but whenever he gets strange, I find his work really intriguing, whether it is good or bad. He really has a beautiful sense of mystery in this one, even if we get another dose of "jazz hands" from the caped fellow.

The back figural group has an interesting similarity to the grouping in The Shell.

It would be fascinating to hear Pyle talk about Japanese art. The flat graphic quality of so many of his female students' work seems directly tied in to it.

Ian Schoenherr said...

Ha! I was going to draw “The Shell” comparison, but you beat me to it - and I was worried about making a long post even longer.

And I totally agree with the “jazz hands” - I think Pyle's overly theatrical touches often hamper his overall effect: better when the startled/excited/fearful folk have their backs to us, as in his Jekyll and Hyde frontispiece:

Anonymous said...

Terrific post Ian. Your ability to fix the scene by having the facts at hand is a biographical marvel that I hope to emulate.

Regarding "jazz hands": I associate this with pre-Method ham acting, and I've always thought of Pyle's "entering the picture" concept as a technique for taking the "melo-" out of drama. So normally I would agree with both of you, that the hands are overly goofy as a response to the werewolf. But consider that he is not only reacting to the wolf, but nearer at hand, to Iseult "un-manning" him by taking his weapon and defending herself, in which case, the text is calling out for a "wussy" version of Siegfried, which Pyle dutifully provided.

— Roger Reed

Ian Schoenherr said...

Thanks, Roger - I appreciate that!