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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

“This is the last week at the Ford...”

“This is the last week at the Ford and I’ll make the best of it,” wrote N. C. Wyeth to his mother on Sunday, October 18, 1903. “Then back to Wilmington where I hope before I leave again I’ll be doing illustrating galore.”

It was indeed the last week at Chadd’s Ford: after six years, never again would Howard Pyle conduct his “Summer School” there. That very morning he had held his final composition lecture - “an exceptionally fine” one, noted Wyeth, “although my comp. wasn’t up to snuff.”

“Today a friend of Randolphs was out and had a camera,” Wyeth also wrote, referring to the Randolph family of the “Wyndtryst” estate nearby. “He wanted a picture of Mr. Pyle but Mr. Pyle would not be taken alone so took Palmer and I, putting his arms around both of us.”

The result - almost certainly - was the snapshot shown here, although it includes a couple more people than Wyeth mentioned. From left to right are Samuel Morrow Palmer Jr. (28), N. C. Wyeth (about to turn 21), Howard Pyle (50), Allen Tupper True (22), and James Edwin McBurney (34). (Palmer and McBurney, by the way, had studied with Pyle at the Drexel Institute and in 1900 or 1901 Pyle had invited them both to join his newly-formed school of art in Wilmington.)

The five are standing outside Lafayette Hall, where the Pyles lived when summering at “the Ford”. And although it had rained all Saturday and the sky still looks gray in the photograph, on Sunday the weather had cleared, and - as True said in a letter to his mother - sometime after the lecture, or the photo, or both, “we took a long cross country walk and it was great because today has been one of the finest days of the whole year.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

In 1776 - The Conflagration

Behold Howard Pyle’s exquisitely delicate depiction of the fire that destroyed part of lower Manhattan 240 years ago.

He made this pen and ink drawing - most likely in the winter of 1892-93 - as a headpiece for Thomas A. Janvier’s two-part article on “The Evolution of New York” (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, June 1893), and he must have used this 1730s engraving - “A View of Fort George with the City of New York from the SW.” - as reference.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Howard Pyle, Costume Designer

Five costume designs for “Springtime” by Howard Pyle (1909) - via Northeast Auctions

Howard Pyle’s stint as a Broadway costume designer has been all but forgotten. So, let’s remember:

In 1909, impresario Frederic Thompson - co-creator of Luna Park on Coney Island and the Hippodrome Theatre in Manhattan - began production on a play to promote his wife, actress Mabel Taliaferro. The star vehicle - called “Springtime” - was set to debut that fall and Thompson garnered early publicity for it by changing his wife’s confusingly pronounced name to the mononymous “Nell” and by signing on the then-well-known Booth Tarkington and Harry Leon Wilson to write the script, Harry Rowe Shelley to compose the score, and Howard Pyle to design the costumes.

Harper’s Weekly later spelled out the plot of the fluffy romance, set in Louisiana at the end of the War of 1812:
The action of the drama immediately precedes and follows the battle of New Orleans, and the scenes are laid in or near the plantation of M. de Valette, the head of an old French family, who hates his American neighbors.

M. de Valette has arranged a marriage for his daughter, Madeleine, with his cousin, Raoul de Valette, although the two persons most concerned in the matter have never seen each other. Implicitly obedient to her father, Madeleine offers no objection to the parental plans, but when Raoul is introduced to her, she is unable to conceal her disappointment at finding him elderly and unattractive. While preparations are being made for the wedding, Madeleine happens to meet Gilbert Steele, the son of an American planter, who has come to see M. de Valette in regard to a sale of property. These two young people immediately become deeply interested in each other, but Gilbert apparently departs in anger when M. de Valette orders him from the plantation and gives him to understand that his daughter is betrothed. Madeleine, desiring to explain the situation to Gilbert, steals away from the plantation, outside whose precincts she had never before set foot. She meets the young American in the forest, where he has a rendezvous with a band of backwoodsmen who are to support General Jackson in battle on the next morning. Here Madeleine becomes aware of her love for Gilbert, renounces any intention of marrying Raoul, and insists upon accompanying her lover to the front. However, military discipline necessitates her return home, only to learn there that she has been disgraced in the eyes of her stern father and disowned by him. While dazed by this inexplicable reception to her, she is cruelly shocked by the sudden announcement of Gilbert’s death in battle, and loses her reason. But the report proves to have been erroneous, and through the stimulus of Gilbert’s return and her father’s forgiveness, Madeleine regains her faculties and all ends happily.
Interestingly, while Thompson was getting his ducks in a row, Pyle’s “When All the World Was Young” was published in Harper’s Monthly for August 1909 (issued in mid-July). The picture, painted about a year earlier, could practically serve as an illustration for “Springtime” and it may well have inspired Thompson to seek Pyle out.

“When All the World Was Young” by Howard Pyle (1908)

Or... it was pure coincidence and Thompson didn’t see the picture at all but was simply lured by Pyle’s respectability, reputation, and name-recognition. At any rate, soon after meeting with Thompson, Pyle got the blessing of Harper and Brothers (with whom he was under exclusive contract for illustrations) and accepted Thompson’s proposed $2500 fee. Before long, Pyle’s involvement with the play was being reported in the press.

from The New York Times (August 14, 1909)

As an acknowledged expert on American historical dress, Pyle must have found his task relatively easy, but, stickler that he was - “I am very anxious to get the costumes as correct as possible,” he said - he wound up seeking more precise information on at least one character’s outfit from author and New Orleans native George Washington Cable. But that’s a tale for another day.

In all, the commission took Pyle three weeks and resulted fourteen (known) watercolors - each measuring upwards of 25 x 18 inches - which would serve not only as guides for the costumes, but as stand-alone pictures. He delivered them by early September and then left town with his wife and two eldest sons on a few-days’ steamboat trip on the Chesapeake Bay and Pocomoke River.

How closely Pyle’s designs resembled the finished costumes is hard to say. The few photos of the cast are in black and white and the shapes and sizes of the actors often differed from Pyle’s idealized conceptions - despite the fact that the cast and Pyle were hired at about the same time. For example, William B. Mack, as M. de Valette, had broader shoulders than Pyle imagined.

Costume design for “M. de Valette” by Howard Pyle (1909) - via Northeast Auctions

Photo of “M. de Valette” (William B. Mack) and “Madeline” (Mabel Taliaferro) in “Springtime”

And Samuel Forrest was a much older-looking Raoul and wore looser-fitting trousers.

Photo of “Raoul de Valette” (Samuel Forrest) and “Madeleine” (Mabel Taliaferro) in “Springtime”

Costume design for “Raoul de Valette” by Howard Pyle (1909) - via Northeast Auctions

But the costumes of Madeleine and Gilbert Steele - as worn by Mabel Taliaferro and Earle Browne - are almost dead on.

Costume design for “Madeleine” by Howard Pyle (1909) - via Northeast Auctions

Costume design for “Gilbert Steele” by Howard Pyle (1909) - via Northeast Auctions

Photo of “Madeleine” (Mabel Taliaferro) and “Gilbert Steele” (Earle Browne) in “Springtime”

“Springtime” opened in previews at the Garrick Theatre in Philadelphia on October 4, 1909, and although Tarkington, Wilson, and Thompson were there, it is not yet known if Pyle attended that or any other performance of the show, either in Philadelphia or during its New York run at the Liberty Theatre, which began on October 19. Pyle’s work, however, did not go unnoticed: the day after the Broadway premiere, the New York Evening Sun commented:
Springtime bloomed at the Liberty Theatre last night not only on the stage but in the lobby. The audience entered the theatre through a bower of roses, carnations and chrysanthemums, and on the few blank spaces left on the walls hung the exquisite costume sketches which Howard Pyle had designed for his play. Oddly enough, though, none of the costumes on stage looked half as beautiful as these sketches did.
And, in referring to Pyle, the Christian Science Monitor of November 3, 1909, said:
He has succeeded in gaining some brilliant effects and has combined his picturesque colors into impressive groups which give a striking effect upon the stage. He has successfully aided in creating a suitable atmosphere for this romantic play.
Although reasonably well-received, “Springtime” was not a huge success: it closed on Christmas in New York after only 79 performances and it more or less disappeared from the boards in 1910, after travelling to several different cities and appearing in “novelized” form (often illustrated with photos of the cast) in various periodicals. It was resurrected by at least one stock company in Rhode Island in 1913, and perhaps others here and there. And in 1914 it was made into a 5-reel silent movie, directed by Will S. Davis and starring an entirely new cast, but copies of or stills from the film have not yet been found, so it’s impossible to tell if the costumes followed Pyle’s designs.

The watercolors, by the way, went home with Mabel Taliaferro (the “Nell” rebranding having been abandoned), where they were hung as a frieze in her dining-room, and then weathered her bitter divorce from Thompson (she accused him of “extreme and repeated cruelty”) two years after “Springtime”’s run. In 1916 she sold all fourteen paintings to Francis Patrick Garvan and his wife, Mabel Brady Garvan - owners of a half dozen other Pyle originals - and at least some of them remained in the family for the next one hundred years - until this weekend, that is, when five will be sold at Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Who knows what happened to the other nine pictures? Maybe someone will tell me.

Costume design for “Julie” (played by Sallie Brent) by Howard Pyle (1909) - via Northeast Auctions

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Cover Design for the New Year

Howard Pyle’s cover design for the January 1900 issue of McClure’s Magazine is not necessarily his best work, nor is it very well known: it was used only once and the original art is missing.

Pyle had promised to do the job early in 1899, but, busy as ever, he only got around to submitting sketches in July, while working and teaching at Chadd’s Ford. After a couple of false starts, he finally hit on something acceptable to the publisher in mid-August. In a letter accompanying his ultimately approved sketch, he explained, “My idea is to depict somewhat the feeling of the Angel of Futurity bearing in one hand the wassail bowl and in the other the scythe of Fate, the crescent moon typifying a new era and the dead branches that of the past.”

It looks like Pyle replaced the bowl with a chalice, for some reason. And it’s not clear how he executed the final picture: was it - like many of the illustrations made by his female students - in charcoal tinted with watercolor? Or was it in oil?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Margaret of Cortona

“...the illustration for ‘Margaret of Cortona’ is now in the possession of Mrs. Dan Bates, to whom I gave it some years ago,” wrote Howard Pyle from his villa in Italy on August 10, 1911.

“Mrs. Dan Bates” was the former Bertha Corson Day (1875-1968), who was, as she herself put it, “an enthusiastic pupil of Howard Pyle” for several years, starting with his very first class at the Drexel Institute in 1894. In 1899 she attended the second Summer School of Illustration at Chadd’s Ford - where she was photographed with the class on her 24th birthday. In May 1902, Miss Day married Wilmingtonian Daniel Moore Bates, Jr. (1876-1953) - already part of Pyle’s social circle - and when their daughter, Bertha, was born, Anne Poole Pyle presented her with a baby blanket she had quilted and which her husband had designed. (Incidentally, Bertha Bates - later Mrs. J. Marshall Cole, - is the only person I ever met who had known Pyle, if only slightly: she was just 6 years old when he sailed for Europe. Still...)

“Margaret of Cortona” was a poem (reprinted below) by Edith Wharton, published in Harper’s Monthly for November 1901, and - so far - this “collaboration” is the only known solid link between them. They did have several acquaintances in common, however, most notably Theodore Roosevelt and William Crary Brownell of Charles Scribner’s Sons, who edited Pyle’s The Garden Behind the Moon and several of Wharton’s works.

Wharton’s poem, by the way, (not Pyle’s illustration) was condemned by the Catholic press because of its depiction of the future Saint. Dominicana: A Magazine of Catholic Literature, for instance, said, “This poetic (?) blasphemy and historical slander is an evidence of extremely bad taste, because it offends against the canons of fact and truthful record.” Harper’s Monthly even went so far as to print an apology for publishing it.

Margaret of Cortona
by Edith Wharton

Fra Paolo, since they say the end is near,
And you of all men have the gentlest eyes,
Most like our father Francis; since you know
How I have toiled and prayed and scourged and striven,
Mothered the orphan, waked beside the sick,
Gone empty that mine enemy might eat,
Given bread for stones in famine years, and channelled
With vigilant knees the pavement of this cell,
Till I constrained the Christ upon the wall
To bend His thorn-crowned Head in mute forgiveness...
Three times He bowed it...(but the whole stands writ,
Sealed with the Bishop’s signet, as you know),
Once for each person of the Blessed Three -
A miracle that the whole town attests,
The very babes thrust forward for my blessing,
And either parish plotting for my bones—
Since this you know: sit near and bear with me.

I have lain here, these many empty days
I thought to pack with Credos and Hail Marys
So close that not a fear should force the door -
But still, between the blessed syllables
That taper up like blazing angel heads,
Praise over praise, to the Unutterable,
Strange questions clutch me, thrusting fiery arms,
As though, athwart the close-meshed litanies,
My dead should pluck at me from hell, with eyes
Alive in their obliterated faces!...
I have tried the saints’ names and our blessed Mother’s
Fra Paolo, I have tried them o’er and o’er,
And like a blade bent backward at first thrust
They yield and fail me—and the questions stay.
And so I thought, into some human heart,
Pure, and yet foot-worn with the tread of sin,
If only I might creep for sanctuary,
It might be that those eyes would let me rest...

Fra Paolo, listen. How should I forget
The day I saw him first? (You know the one.)
I had been laughing in the market-place
With others like me, I the youngest there,
Jostling about a pack of mountebanks
Like flies on carrion (I the youngest there!),
Till darkness fell; and while the other girls
Turned this way, that way, as perdition beckoned,
I, wondering what the night would bring, half hoping:
If not, this once, a child’s sleep in my garret,
At least enough to buy that two-pronged coral
The others covet ‘gainst the evil eye,
Since, after all, one sees that I’m the youngest -

So, muttering my litany to hell
(The only prayer I knew that was not Latin),
Felt on my arm a touch as kind as yours,
And heard a voice as kind as yours say “Come.”
I turned and went; and from that day I never
Looked on the face of any other man.
So much is known; so much effaced; the sin
Cast like a plague-struck body to the sea,
Deep, deep into the unfathomable pardon -
(The Head bowed thrice, as the whole town attests).
What more, then? To what purpose? Bear with me! -

It seems that he, a stranger in the place,
First noted me that afternoon and wondered:
How grew so white a bud in such black slime,
And why not mine the hand to pluck it out?

Why, so Christ deals with souls, you cry - what then?
Not so! Not so! When Christ, the heavenly gardener,
Plucks flowers for Paradise (do I not know?),
He snaps the stem above the root, and presses
The ransomed soul between two convent walls,
A lifeless blossom in the Book of Life.
But when my lover gathered me, he lifted
Stem, root and all - ay, and the clinging mud -
And set me on his sill to spread and bloom
After the common way, take sun and rain,
And make a patch of brightness for the street,
Though raised above rough fingers—so you make
A weed a flower, and others, passing, think:
“Next ditch I cross, I’ll lift a root from it,
And dress my window”...and the blessing spreads.
Well, so I grew, with every root and tendril
Grappling the secret anchorage of his love,
And so we loved each other till he died....

Ah, that black night he left me, that dead dawn
I found him lying in the woods, alive
To gasp my name out and his life-blood with it,
As though the murderer’s knife had probed for me
In his hacked breast and found me in each wound...
Well, it was there Christ came to me, you know,
And led me home—just as that other led me.
(Just as that other? Father, bear with me!)
My lover’s death, they tell me, saved my soul,
And I have lived to be a light to men.
And gather sinners to the knees of grace.
All this, you say, the Bishop’s signet covers.
But stay! Suppose my lover had not died?
(At last my question! Father, help me face it.)
I say: Suppose my lover had not died -
Think you I ever would have left him living,
Even to be Christ’s blessed Margaret?
- We lived in sin? Why, to the sin I died to
That other was as Paradise, when God
Walks there at eventide, the air pure gold,
And angels treading all the grass to flowers!
He was my Christ—he led me out of hell -
He died to save me (so your casuists say!) -
Could Christ do more? Your Christ out-pity mine?
Why, yours but let the sinner bathe His feet;
Mine raised her to the level of his heart...
And then Christ’s way is saving, as man’s way
Is squandering - and the devil take the shards!
But this man kept for sacramental use
The cup that once had slaked a passing thirst;
This man declared: “The same clay serves to model
A devil or a saint; the scribe may stain
The same fair parchment with obscenities,
Or gild with benedictions; nay,” he cried,
“Because a satyr feasted in this wood,
And fouled the grasses with carousing foot,
Shall not a hermit build his chapel here
And cleanse the echoes with his litanies?
The sodden grasses spring again - why not
The trampled soul? Is man less merciful
Than nature, good more fugitive than grass?”
And so - if, after all, he had not died,
And suddenly that door should know his hand,
And with that voice as kind as yours he said:
“Come, Margaret, forth into the sun again,
Back to the life we fashioned with our hands
Out of old sins and follies, fragments scorned
Of more ambitious builders, yet by Love,
The patient architect, so shaped and fitted
That not a crevice let the winter in - ”
Think you my bones would not arise and walk,
This bruised body (as once the bruised soul)
Turn from the wonders of the seventh heaven
As from the antics of the market-place?
If this could be (as I so oft have dreamed),
I, who have known both loves, divine and human,
Think you I would not leave this Christ for that?

- I rave, you say? You start from me, Fra Paolo?
Go, then; your going leaves me not alone.
I marvel, rather, that I feared the question,
Since, now I name it, it draws near to me
With such dear reassurance in its eyes,
And takes your place beside me...

Nay, I tell you,
Fra Paolo, I have cried on all the saints -
If this be devil’s prompting, let them drown it
In Alleluias! Yet not one replies.
And, for the Christ there—is He silent too?
Your Christ? Poor father; you that have but one,
And that one silent - how I pity you!
He will not answer? Will not help you cast
The devil out? But hangs there on the wall,
Blind wood and bone - ?

How if I call on Him -
I, whom He talks with, as the town attests?
If ever prayer hath ravished me so high
That its wings failed and dropped me in Thy breast,
Christ, I adjure Thee! By that naked hour
Of innermost commixture, when my soul
Contained Thee as the paten holds the host,
Judge Thou alone between this priest and me;
Nay, rather, Lord, between my past and present,
Thy Margaret and that other’s - whose she is
By right of salvage - and whose call should follow!
Thine? Silent still. - Or his, who stooped to her,
And drew her to Thee by the bands of love?
Not Thine? Then his?

Ah, Christ—the thorn-crowned Head
Bends...bends again...down on your knees, Fra Paolo!
If his, then Thine!

Kneel, priest, for this is heaven...

Monday, November 9, 2015

“Surprised by the Hero of Seventy Fights”

“Surprised by the Hero of Seventy Fights - The Good Lord James of Douglas” - another long lost work by Howard Pyle - will be sold at auction this coming Saturday. By “long lost” I mean that for almost 130 years the greater public has only been able to see a small wood engraving of it - that is, provided they could find copies of the magazine and books in which it first (and perhaps only) appeared.

Pyle painted the 13.5 x 16.5" black and white oil on canvas (or canvas board?) sometime in late 1885 or early 1886. It illustrated the true (or truish) story of “The Little Donna Juana” - subtitled “An October Story of the Moors of Spain, and how the good Lord James of Douglas kept his Hallow E’en. a.d. 1340” - one of Elbridge S. Brooks’s series “The Cycle of Children” in the juvenile magazine Wide Awake for October 1886. The following year, it was published by D. Lothrop & Company (publisher of the magazine) in Storied Holidays, A Cycle of Red-Letter Days.

Both publications (as well as subsequent British editions of the book) featured the 3.8 x 4.5" wood engraving of the picture made by George Leander Cowee (1852-1908). Cowee, like so many of the engravers of his generation, did an admirable job, but it’s still more of an interpretation than an exact reproduction, and it lacks much of the warmth, softness, and subtlety of Pyle’s original.

Although Pyle probably sold the picture outright (for, I gather, about $75) to Lothrop, it somehow made its way back to where Pyle painted it: the catalog entry states that the picture comes “From the collection of Mr. and Mrs. William Walker of Wilmington, Delaware. This piece was handed down from his father, who worked for the DuPont family.”

“Surprised by the hero of seventy fights The Great [sic] Lord James of Douglas” is Lot 80 in Day One of Wooten & Wooten’s Fall Americana auction at 1036 Broad Street, Camden, South Carolina, on November 14, 2015.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Study for “Life in an Old Dutch Town”

Study for “Life in an Old Dutch Town” by Howard Pyle (1910)

Howard Pyle’s 16.5 x 71" oil on canvas study for his mural “Life in an Old Dutch Town” (also known as “The First Settlement on Manhattan Island”) will be sold by Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers in Bethesda, Maryland, this Sunday, September 20, 2015.

The finished mural was one of three Pyle painted for the Freeholders’ Room in the Hudson County Court House in Jersey City, New Jersey. (See this post for more information.)

Documentation on the murals is sorely lacking, but Pyle seems to have received the commission in February 1910; he then visited the courthouse in late March (no doubt to get a sense of the room and the lighting, and to take precise measurements of the spaces his murals would occupy), and he probably prepared and submitted studies for approval sometime that spring. His fee was reported to have been $15,000 for all three pictures, which would - ideally - be in place before the courthouse opened that fall.

Because the murals were longer than Pyle’s own Wilmington studio was wide, he commandeered two of the student studios next door, removed the wall between them, and - assisted to a large degree by Frank Schoonover and Stanley Arthurs - set to work painting the first mural at the end of May 1910.

“Peter Stuyvesant and the English Fleet” took up all of June and “Hendryk Hudson and the Half-Moon”, begun the first week of July, was completed in mid-August. Then, before beginning “Life in an Old Dutch Town”, Pyle seems to have spent two weeks either fine-tuning his study, or maybe even redoing it from scratch: a 1977 article in The Jersey Journal made the so far uncorroborated claim that Pyle “originally started to paint the interior of a Dutch inn taproom, using as a model the Bergen Room of the swank Union League Club in Downtown Jersey City” - but then changed his mind. Either way, as Pyle said to Arthurs and Schoonover in a letter of August 30, 1910, “The last picture that you will work upon is progressing, and will be ready for you on Thursday or Friday next [i.e. September 1st or 2nd].” And, indeed, on the 2nd, they “squared” (or gridded out) the canvas - some 7 feet high and 33 feet wide - and began transferring the image in charcoal from (no doubt) a similarly “squared” photo of Pyle’s study. Painting proper began on Monday, September 5th.

Arthurs, Pyle, and Schoonover, September 21, 1910 (Paul Strayer, photographer)

According to Schoonover’s daybook, the mural was finished - in a mere three weeks - on September 26th and it was packed for shipment on the 28th. It’s likely that on the 26th, 27th, or 28th Pyle had Joseph Pearce of Philadelphia come down to photograph the mural (in two exposures because of its extreme breadth) in the studio, where the lighting would have been brighter and more even than in the dim and shadowy Freeholders’ Room. Pearce’s photos (below) come from Cortlandt Schoonover’s Frank Schoonover: Illustrator of the North American Frontier (Watson-Guptill, 1976): the missing middle portion was cropped in the book; the other blank areas were left unpainted to accommodate brackets and the doorway.

“Life in an Old Dutch Town” mural (Joseph Pearce, photographer)

But after installing “Life in an Old Dutch Town” in Jersey City in early October 1910, Pyle saw a major flaw in his scheme: the brick buildings were acting as visual roadblocks, interrupting the flow from one mural to the next. He must have then reworked the study to solve the problem and then used it once more as a guide in reworking the mural.

Study for “Life in an Old Dutch Town” (Architectural League of New York catalogue, 1911)

And so, what Pyle probably had anticipated to be a day or two of “touching up” turned into over a week of extensive, on-site repainting: replacing the seated folks and the buildings with water, sky, and a horizon line which more pleasingly linked the three murals together. (He also removed baskets from the woman to the right of the young couple and from the woman to the right of the center of the picture.) The mural was finished for good on October 13th or so - more than three weeks after the courthouse had officially opened.

Pyle copyrighted the mural on October 15, 1910, but it isn’t clear if he submitted Pearce’s photo(s) - with the buildings - or a photo of the reworked study. In the Library of Congress’ Catalogue of Copyright Entries it is described (likely by Pyle himself) as “Dutch of New Amsterdam. Street scene, number of people, of time of 1650, coming and going” - which doesn’t really help. It’s possible, too, that the reworked study was photographed before Pyle finished the mural, because the trees on the far right of the study are missing in the mural.

Be it chicken or egg, the study was photographed sometime within the next three months and reproduced in the catalogue of the 26th Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League of New York (January 29-February 18, 1911).

Freeholders’ Room, Hudson County Court House

Decades later, when the courthouse faced demolition, the above photo of the Freeholders’ Room was taken which shows extensive water damage in the center of “Life in an Old Dutch Town”. But the building was saved and the murals were restored in the late 1970s - as seen in this blurry, cropped color photo from the book Heroes in the Fight for Beauty: The Muralists of the Hudson County Court House by Cynthia H. Sanford (Jersey City Museum, 1986) - coupled for comparison with Pearce’s photos.

“Life in an Old Dutch Town” mural before being reworked, 1910 (top); after restoration, c.1986 (bottom)

Since then, the murals may have been restored or cleaned: a photo taken just a few years ago by Leon Yost, shows that “ghosts” of the painted-out brick wall and basket have re-emerged.

“Life in an Old Dutch Town” detail (Leon Yost, photographer)

Now back to the study.

Six weeks after finishing the Hudson County Court House commission, Pyle sailed to Italy, never to return. The study, meanwhile - which, apart from the mural itself, is the last known Colonial scene Pyle ever painted - probably came back from the 1911 Architectural League show and sat in his studio or house for a time, and eventually it wound up with his second youngest child, Godfrey (1895-1959), who in turn, sold it to Francis and Laura (Bryn) Winslow of Chevy Chase, Maryland, whose family has held onto it until now. One grandson described its history this way:
My grandparents were friends of Howard Pyle’s son “Goff” Pyle (presumably that means Godfrey) because they used to go bird hunting together in Delaware in the 1930s and 1940s. In the mid-1940s, my grandparents noticed a rolled-up painting beside the couch in Goff Pyle’s house, asked about it, and bought it. They brought it home, framed it, hung it over the fireplace.
The study probably hadn’t been rolled up or reframed, after all, because the simple oak frame seen in the 1911 catalogue looks to be the same one in this 1949 photo.

Study for “Life in an Old Dutch Town” (1949)

However, as the later photo shows, sometime after being photographed for the 1911 catalogue, about 1.5 inches were cropped from the bottom of the study. Pyle himself may have done this so that it more closely resembled the finished mural - but if that had been his object, why didn’t he paint out the trees on the right of the study as he had done on the mural?

Study for “Life in an Old Dutch Town” 1910-11 photo (top); 2015 photo (bottom)

Confounding matters, the recent color photograph of the study (courtesy of Sloans & Kenyon) shows a few more differences from the 1911 catalogue photo (shown together, above): the trees on the far right, although present, are changed, and a small patch of sky between the young couple (also seen in both photos of the mural) has reappeared. Also, the absence of the windmill’s blades in the center of the picture - and the presence of the small triangle of dark blue water on the far right - may indicate that parts of the study were painted over by Pyle after the 1911 catalogue photo was taken, or by someone else after Pyle’s death. And, as seen in Mr. Yost’s photo of the mural, parts of the brick wall and one of the baskets have re-emerged in the study, perhaps because of fugitive pigments or too rigorous a cleaning.

Even so, Pyle’s study is particularly striking and is stronger both conceptually and compositionally than its enormous counterpart. The latter, of course, was hastily painted - and hastily repainted - and although Pyle knew parts of it had to be cut away for the brackets and doorway, he seems not to have taken this into account when arranging his composition: why, for example, would he crop that pair of women at the knees? The mural was also not the work of Pyle alone: as with the other two, Schoonover and Arthurs had painted much of the canvas. N. C. Wyeth had a point when, in referring to “Peter Stuyvesant and the English Fleet”, he complained:
...Schoonover and Arthurs are painting the decoration for him to considerable extent. Now this is permissible providing they carry the work only through the preliminary stages, and then the master, in seclusion with his whole soul, waves his magic wand and lifts the mass of rudimentary paint and masses into living, virile or personal expressions.
But Pyle - chasing an almost impossible deadline - just didn’t have the time to do that. The study, however, does him great credit - and here’s hoping it finds a good home.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Return in Ten Days to Howard Pyle...

That’s good advice, and I really ought to take it - at least when it comes to this blog. Somehow I’ve been neglectful for four months.

The fact is, I return to Howard Pyle every day, rain or shine, and in the past few months I’ve been so deep in my research that I haven’t had the chance or been in the mindset to write anything up. But I’ll come around again, soon. If anything, there’s too much to talk about - and I have trouble choosing.

(The image, by the way, is from the upper left hand corner of one of Pyle’s specially printed envelopes, which he used for several years.)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Another Picture for Arthur Conan Doyle

This Howard Pyle picture went untitled when it appeared in Harper’s Weekly for December 1, 1894, illustrating Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Parasite.

However, in the book version (published in mid-December 1894, after the four-part serialization) it was called “‘Struck me with both fists’” - and indeed it shows the spellbound hero of the novella, Austin Gillroy, beating the stuffing out of his friend Charles Sadler.

When the magazine showed up on newsstands - about a week before the issue date - Dr. Doyle easily could have picked up a copy himself: he was, then, at the tail end of a whirlwind lecture tour in the United States (plus a brief stop in Canada) - a trip which is thoroughly documented in Christopher Redmond’s Welcome to America, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

But I can only speculate where Doyle was when he first saw Pyle’s picture: Schenectady, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Buffalo? Or while he was enjoying Thanksgiving with Rudyard Kipling in Brattleboro, Vermont? Or maybe when he was in Morristown or Paterson, New Jersey?

Or maybe he never saw it at all - unless Harper & Brothers sent him their edition of The Parasite with Pyle’s four illustrations. I wonder if they did - and what he thought.

As I mentioned in my previous post, no correspondence surrounding this picture - or anything regarding Pyle’s involvement with The Parasite - has been located. I still hope something will turn up. The original painting, too, is missing, though I assume Pyle painted it in black and white oil. Again, it hints at what he could have brought to illustrations of the Sherlock Holmes stories, if only Harper’s Weekly had asked Pyle to make them - instead of the lackluster William Henry Hyde. Oh well.

Now, for want of anything more to say, here is a long except of what Pyle’s picture illustrated:
...To-night is the university ball, and I must go. God knows I never felt less in the humor for festivity, but I must not have it said that I am unfit to appear in public. If I am seen there, and have speech with some of the elders of the university it will go a long way toward showing them that it would be unjust to take my chair away from me.

10 P.M. I have been to the ball. Charles Sadler and I went together, but I have come away before him. I shall wait up for him, however, for, indeed, I fear to go to sleep these nights. He is a cheery, practical fellow, and a chat with him will steady my nerves. On the whole, the evening was a great success. I talked to every one who has influence, and I think that I made them realize that my chair is not vacant quite yet. The creature was at the ball - unable to dance, of course, but sitting with Mrs. Wilson. Again and again her eyes rested upon me. They were almost the last things I saw before I left the room. Once, as I sat sideways to her, I watched her, and saw that her gaze was following some one else. It was Sadler, who was dancing at the time with the second Miss Thurston. To judge by her expression, it is well for him that he is not in her grip as I am. He does not know the escape he has had. I think I hear his step in the street now, and I will go down and let him in. If he will -

May 4. Why did I break off in this way last night? I never went down stairs, after all - at least, I have no recollection of doing so. But, on the other hand, I cannot remember going to bed. One of my hands is greatly swollen this morning, and yet I have no remembrance of injuring it yesterday. Otherwise, I am feeling all the better for last night's festivity. But I cannot understand how it is that I did not meet Charles Sadler when I so fully intended to do so. Is it possible - My God, it is only too probable! Has she been leading me some devil’s dance again? I will go down to Sadler and ask him.

Mid-day. The thing has come to a crisis. My life is not worth living. But, if I am to die, then she shall come also. I will not leave her behind, to drive some other man mad as she has me. No, I have come to the limit of my endurance. She has made me as desperate and dangerous a man as walks the earth. God knows I have never had the heart to hurt a fly, and yet, if I had my hands now upon that woman, she should never leave this room alive. I shall see her this very day, and she shall learn what she has to expect from me.

I went to Sadler and found him, to my surprise, in bed. As I entered he sat up and turned a face toward me which sickened me as I looked at it.

“Why, Sadler, what has happened?” I cried, but my heart turned cold as I said it.

“Gilroy,” he answered, mumbling with his swollen lips, “I have for some weeks been under the impression that you are a madman. Now I know it, and that you are a dangerous one as well. If it were not that I am unwilling to make a scandal in the college, you would now be in the hands of the police.”

“Do you mean - ” I cried.

“I mean that as I opened the door last night you rushed out upon me, struck me with both your fists in the face, knocked me down, kicked me furiously in the side, and left me lying almost unconscious in the street. Look at your own hand bearing witness against you.”

Yes, there it was, puffed up, with sponge-like knuckles, as after some terrific blow. What could I do? Though he put me down as a madman, I must tell him all. I sat by his bed and went over all my troubles from the beginning. I poured them out with quivering hands and burning words which might have carried conviction to the most sceptical. “She hates you and she hates me!” I cried. “She revenged herself last night on both of us at once. She saw me leave the ball, and she must have seen you also. She knew how long it would take you to reach home. Then she had but to use her wicked will. Ah, your bruised face is a small thing beside my bruised soul!”

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Forgotten Tale by Arthur Conan Doyle!

Pardon the clickbait title, but I couldn’t resist after yesterday’s “news” that a “lost” Sherlock Holmes story “by” Arthur Conan Doyle had come to light. Fortunately, last night, Mattias Boström, a bona fide Doyle scholar, wrote an article which dismantled the hastily made claims. (Before being eclipsed by Howard Pyle, Doyle and Holmes were the objects of my obsession, and I still dip into their worlds from time to time.)

Now, about “A Forgotten Tale” by Arthur Conan Doyle...

It was a poem, not a tale per se, and it has no Sherlockian content. Evidently, Dr. Doyle (as he was often referred to, then) wrote it not long before he visited the United States for the first time, in 1894. In fact, the manuscript of “A Forgotten Tale” seems to have sailed from England just a few weeks - or even days - before the doctor himself did: Scribner’s Magazine accepted it on September 27, 1894, and Doyle arrived in New York on October 2nd. As the poem was scheduled to appear in the January 1895 issue (which would be on the newsstands by mid-December), Scribner’s must have commissioned Howard Pyle to illustrate it almost immediately.

I assume Edward L. Burlingame, editor of Scribner’s Magazine, communicated by letter or in person with Doyle about the poem - and possibly its illustrations. He may even have put Doyle in touch with Pyle, seeing as he had done just that with Rudyard Kipling regarding Pyle’s illustrations for “McAndrews’ Hymn” [sic] - soon to be printed in the December 1894 Scribner’s. Then again, Kipling had asked outright “if you could kindly place me in communication with your artist as it is possible that he might see his way to using some of my suggestions.” But Doyle may not have cared as much, or at all, about the pictures for “A Forgotten Tale”.

And, unfortunately, there’s no paper trail to answer that question. I hunted extensively through the Scribner Archives at Princeton and found nothing. Equally frustrating is that, when Doyle arrived, Pyle may very well have been in the midst of - or had recently finished - illustrating Doyle’s “The Parasite” for Harper’s Weekly, which was to appear in four installments (and in book form) while Doyle was in the United States! There, too, however, I have yet to find any correspondence between Doyle and Pyle or Harper & Brothers concerning the project.

What’s also maddening is that, during his travels, Doyle met “Howells, Cable, Eugene Field, Garland, Riley” - all of whom Pyle had met, and some of whom he knew very well - and was feted again and again by folks in Pyle’s social or professional circles. And, lo and behold, Doyle and Pyle were even in Philadelphia on the same day! Saturday, November 10, 1894, found Pyle lecturing at the Drexel Institute that afternoon and Doyle lecturing that evening - but, again, who knows if they encountered each other, or if Pyle attended the Doyle event?

And later, after Doyle spent Thanksgiving with Kipling in Vermont, he wrote to his mother, “Have you read his poem, McAndrews Hymn, in Scribner’s Xmas number. It’s grand!” But God forbid he should say anything about Pyle’s illustrations. Pyle, meanwhile, must have written down something about Doyle’s writings, but so far nothing has surfaced. I’ll keep looking.

My frustrations aside...

If Scribner’s Magazine accepted “A Forgotten Tale” on September 27, 1894, they probably didn’t get Pyle on board for upwards of a week or more. And as the printed magazine would need to be out in mid-December (and factoring in time before that to prepare photo-engraved plates of the illustrations), it’s safe to say that Pyle made his drawings sometime between mid-October and late November 1894 - all the while Doyle was travelling across the United States.

I have to admit that I’ve never been overly fond of Pyle’s “A Forgotten Tale” pictures. The first one feels too Daniel Vierge-like: but Pyle may have deliberately tried to inject some “Spanish” flavor into it, since the poem is set in Mediaeval Spain. And the second drawing is somewhat hampered by the backlighting. Then again, Pyle’s pen-work was in a sort of transitional phase, and he may have done these in a hurry: he was his usual busy self, writing and illustrating, and he had also just started teaching. His original pen-and-inks haven’t turned up, by the way, nor have his oil paintings for “The Parasite”. Somehow I’m not surprised.

Anyway, after two exhausting months, Doyle sailed off on December 8, 1894. I assume Scribner’s Magazine for January 1895 was still in production at the time, but surely Doyle saw a copy of the finished product (either the American or British edition) not long after he returned home.

Incidentally, Doyle’s departure date conflicted with the Authors’ Reception at the Juvenile Order of the Round Table in New York, to which he had been invited. And who was also invited and - reportedly - attended? Howard Pyle. Of course.

In the end, since Doyle didn’t return to the States until 1914 and since Pyle didn’t go to Europe until 1910-11 - and stayed almost entirely in Italy (where Doyle wasn’t) - they never met again, if they ever met in the first place.

However, the Sherlockian in me takes some solace in the fact that while a sickly Pyle was recuperating in a Rome hotel room in December 1910, his secretary noted how he “was soon absorbed in the Strand Magazine” - the Christmas issue of which featured “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” by Arthur Conan Doyle.

by Arthur Conan Doyle

There still remains in one of the valleys of the Cantabrian mountains in northern Spain a small hill called “Colla de los Inglesos.” It marks the spot where three hundred bowmen of the Black Prince’s army were surrounded by several thousand Spanish cavalry, and after a long and gallant resistance, were entirely destroyed.

Say, what saw you on the hill,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“I saw my brindled heifer there,
A trail of bowmen, spent and bare
A little man on a roan mare
And a tattered flag before them.”

Say, what saw you in the vale,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“There I saw my lambing ewe,
And an army riding through,
Thick and brave the pennons flew
From the lance-heads o’er them.”

Say, what saw you on the hill,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“I saw beside the milking byre,
White with want and black with mire,
A little man with face afire
Marshalling his bowmen.”

Say, what saw you in the vale,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“There I saw my bullocks twain
And the hardy men of Spain
With bloody heel and slackened rein,
Closing on their foemen.”

Nay, but there is more to tell,
Garcia, the herdsman.
“More I might not bide to view,
I had other things to do,
Tending on the lambing ewe,
Down among the clover.”

Prithee tell me what you heard,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“Shouting from the mountain side,
Shouting until eventide,
But it dwindled and it died
Ere milking time was over.”

Ah, but saw you nothing more,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“Yes, I saw them lying there,
The little man and roan mare,
And in their ranks the bowmen bare
With their staves before them.”

And the hardy men of Spain,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“Hush, but we are Spanish too,
More I may not say to you,
May God’s benison, like dew,
Gently settle o’er them.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

Mark Twain and Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood

Mark Twain and G. W. Cable via www.twainquotes.com

On February 13, 1884, author George Washington Cable - then in the midst of an extended stay at the Hartford, Connecticut, home of Samuel L. Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) - concluded a letter to his wife with this comment:
Mrs. Clemens is reading aloud to Mark & the children Howard Pyle’s beautiful new version of Robin Hood. Mark enjoys it hugely; they have come to the death of Robin & will soon be at the end.
The Clemens children were Susy, 11, Clara, 9, Jean, 3, and the “beautiful new version” was The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons just a few months earlier. The first edition was bound in full leather, embossed with Pyle’s own designs.

Clemens’s fondness for the book endured: on New Year’s Day of 1903, he sent what was essentially a fan letter to Pyle, saying, “Long ago you made the best Robin Hood that was ever written.”

The particular copy from which Mrs. Clemens read that winter evening might still be around: a copy owned by Clara (which also contains a bit of marginalia in handwriting resembling that of Clemens: on page 145 the word “goodliness” is crossed out and changed to “godliness”), which was subsequently presented to the actress Elsie Leslie, now belongs to the University of Texas at Austin.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Nice Trade

“A Dream of Young Summer” by Howard Pyle (1901)

“As you know,” said Howard Pyle to the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in a letter of January 2, 1902, “I have always admired your work extremely - have always considered you as a representative of that steadfast and lofty effort toward an Art that cannot condescend to tricks and effects to catch the eye, but that speaks with a deeper intonation to the hearts and the souls of men.”

Saint-Gaudens seems to have felt much the same way about Pyle, and for several years the two had intended to exchange works. Finally, at the end of 1901, the sculptor sent a bronze cast of the “Head of Victory” - a “sketch” for the allegorical figure in his wonderful Sherman Monument.

“Head of Victory” by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Pyle received the piece on January 2. “I shall regard it as one of the treasures of my life,” he wrote the same day. “I care for it much more than I should for a more finished work; it is, as it were, a pure and noble thought from a large, and I am sure, a noble mind.” He also vowed to send “something in return that shall represent an earnest, even if an inarticulate effort of my Art.”

At last, on February 10, 1902 - after having trouble getting the 22 x 12" oil on canvas framed to his liking - Pyle shipped “A Dream of Young Summer”:
Now that it has been sent I feel horribly conscious that it is no adequate return for the beautiful “Victory” which I possess. The only thing that reconciles me to it is that it is sent with the most friendly good wishes in the world. Moreover, whatever its short-comings it is a sincere effort to express a thought.
“A Dream of Young Summer” wasn’t a custom-made piece, but something Pyle already had on hand: it had been published the previous year, in Harper’s Monthly Magazine for June 1901, accompanied by Edith M. Thomas’s poem of the same name (which may have been written for the picture, instead of the other way around - but I’ll explain myself in a later post, I hope).

The painting - which, by the way, Pyle and inscribed “To Augustus Saint Gaudens this Picture of Young Summer with the Fraternal Greetings of His Brother in Art” - eventually wound up in the hands of Pyle’s grandson, who presented it to the Brandywine River Museum, where you can see it today.

Unfortunately, I don’t know where Pyle’s particular copy of the “Head of Victory” is, but it was the topic of this news item in The Evening Journal of Wilmington in March 1904:

A great many people of Wilmington have doubtless seen the equestrian statue Sherman that stands in the Plaza at Fifth avenue in New York, for that work is not only local but national and it is, moreover, regarded by those who should know as being one of the five great equestrian statues of the world. Perhaps the finest part of the entire group is the figure of Victory and it is rather interesting to know that the study for the head, cast in bronze, is now in possession of an artist in Wilmington to whom it was given by Saint-Gaudens.
And Pyle’s student N. C. Wyeth mentioned it in a letter of October 29, 1905:
Mr. Pyle has gone to Chicago today to lecture, etc. Enclosed you will find a photo of him. The cast is a head St. Gaudin’s [sic] gave him. He had a photo taken of it so as to use it in an illustrated lecture in Chicago and Milwaukee. He considers the piece of sculpture (original study for the figure of “Victory” on the Sherman Statue, NY) a masterpiece.

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)