Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love Will Tear Us Apart

It was in 1880, most likely, that 27-year-old Howard Pyle - then living and working at his parents’ house, but soon to be married - painted “St. Valentine’s Day in the Morning”. The black-and-white gouache measured about 18 x 15 inches or so, but the picture as engraved by Gustav Kruell was only 12.7 x 9 inches when it appeared in the February 26, 1881, issue of Harper’s Weekly.

As far as early Pyles go, the postman, the costuming, and the setting are as strong as usual - even then he was a master at depicting overcast days and the tangle of distant trees. But I confess that I don’t love the woman.

Helen “Teri” Card (1903-1971) - the comparatively early champion and dealer of illustration art - didn’t love her, either. And sometime before issuing her landmark, pulse-quickening “Catalog #4” of Pyleana in the early 1960s, Card tore off the offending half of Pyle’s original and tossed it. I wouldn’t have gone that far: the woman’s coy expression doesn’t feel right, but the rest of her is rendered nicely enough.

Card sold the surviving “better half” (see below) for $90 to collector Clifton Waller Barrett, and it now lives at the Brandywine River Museum.