Enjoy illustration? Early children’s books? Wish you could step back in time and have access to the hundreds of lushly illustrated magazines during the “Golden” age of publications. The short list included Harper’s Monthly, Collier’s Weekly,
St. Nicholas, and Scribner’s Magazine.
The American artist and illustrator Howard Pyle (1853 – 1911) illustrated for them all. So did his student, N.C. Wyeth, and his rival and mentor, Edwin Austin Abby. But magazine work was only a small aspect of Pyle’s career. He was known as the “father of American illustration” for a good reason.
In celebration of the centenary of Pyle’s death, the Delaware Art Museum is presenting one of the region’s most comprehensive exhibits. Part art show, and part history lesson in Pyle’s contributions to the world of publication, “Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered” has drawn crowds to the museum since opening earlier this year.
The retrospective is the opening draw, so to speak, for a series of special exhibits that highlight the museum’s first hundred years (1912-2012). The museum was founded to house Pyle’s works after his untimely death in 1912. . (The pirate image posted here, “The Buccaneer Was a Picturesque Fellow, “ a 1905 oil on canvas, was a 1912 acquisition). The museum also includes a vast collection of work by a group of Pyle’s contemporaries known as the Pre-Raphaelites. The group formed a pact in 1848, devoting themselves to craftsmanship and art.
Pre-Raphaelites tried to return to the imagery and romance of an earlier time in part because they feared that the Industrial Revolution was crushing the artistic life and temperament. Pyle was similarly disappointed in what he considered to be the hackwork of the day . At the time, book and magazine publishers relied on engravers to create blocks for printing, and the artwork was often in poor quality.
Pyle was the first to create full-scale paintings in vibrant colors even though as illustrations, they were to be reproduced in black & white, and in smaller form. Most of all, he had hoped illustration would be become accepted as an art form, like Fine Art paintings and sculpture. Pyle, who offered free classes at his school in Wilmington, stressed historic accuracy, color harmony and dramatic compositions.
As a result, his illustrations – many of them of widely circulated images of pirates, knights, and historical figures – were admired by an international group of patrons and readers including artists and authors such as Vincent Van Gogh and Mark Twain.
Yet, despite his widespread popularity, Pyle’s reputation has survived only among illustration scholars and enthusiasts. According to the museum’s organizers, until recent years, Pyle’s work has been virtually omitted from the larger context of art history.
“Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered” presents a fresh perspective on Pyle’s familiar images by exploring his interaction with the art and culture of his time – effectively re-positioning him within the broader spectrum of 19th-century art.
Aside from offering a historic perspective, the exhibit should appeal to many. Even visitors unfamiliar with Pyle or his place in art history will delight in the sheer range of artwork. Organized in three thematic sections, the exhibit includes Pyle’s depictions of history, including Roman gladiators, pirates and medieval knights.
Unlike many illustrators of his day, Pyle’s imagery, especially his pirate imagery, was based on his own personal archive of costume books and historic manuscripts. However, as the exhibit points out, Pyle’s work also reflected the art world’s newfound interest in Japanese prints. The contemporary art world was obsessed with Japanese art as reflected in the work of James McNeill Whistler, James Tissot, and Edgar Degas, among others.
In what is perhaps the most family-friendly aspect to the exhibit, the “Fairytale and Fantasy” section includes Pyle’s numerous illustrations created for books on fairy tales, fantasies, and popular children’s stories. Much of the design styles of this period reflect Pyle’s knowledge of earlier European illustrators, including Walter Crane (1845 – 1915) and Kate Greenaway (1846 – 1901).
The third section of the exhibit, “America – Past and Present,” highlights Pyle’s enthusiasm for an artistic period in the 1880s known as the colonial revival movement, which celebrated all things American. As a museum press release describes it, Pyle’s iconic Revolutionary War scenes were part of that appeal. But the exhibit also touches upon his design influences such as that of the French Salon artist, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1814 – 1891), whose own military scenes – that of the Napoleonic Wars – were immensely popular in Meissonier’s day. The exhibit includes examples from both artists’ patriotic works, leaving the viewer to make their own conclusions about Pyle’s knowledge of Meissonier’s dramatic compositions.
In short, admirers of Pyle’s impressive career are sure to see how Pyle not only determined the field of illustration but also epitomized the ideals of the self-made artist.
This exhibit ends March 4th.
For a complete list of exhibits, see the museum’s web site. Here are two:
A Secret Book of Designs: The Burne-Jones Flower Book
January 28, 2012 – April 22, 2012
Between 1892 – 898 Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) created a series of circular images, each inspired by the name of a flower. This exhibition will feature all 38 images from this series, recently acquired for the Museum’s Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives.
Tales of Folk and Fairies: The Life and Work of Katharine Pyle
February 18, 2012 – September 9, 2012
Katharine Pyle (1863-1938), Howard Pyle’s youngest sibling, emerged as one of Delaware’s most prolific female authors and illustrators. Between 1898 and 1934, she published over 50 books – many of them stories about folk, fairies, animals, and children’s tales. This exhibition serves to reintroduce the works of Katharine Pyle to present-day audiences.
Hurry to see the Final Days of a major exhibit on Howard Pyle
What: The exhibit, “Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered,” ends March 4th
Where: at the Delaware Art Museum, located at 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, DE 19806.
Features: The Delaware Museum’s Centennial Celebration began in November 2011 with the opening of Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered and ends in June 2013 with the exhibition Indelible Impressions: Contemporary Illustrators and Howard Pyle.
Hours: the museum is open Wednesday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Sunday noon – 4:00 p.m.
Cost: Admission fees are charged as follows: Adults (19 – 59) $12, Seniors (60+) $10, Students (with valid ID) $6, Youth (7 – 18) $6, and Children (6 and under) free. Admission fees are waived every Sunday.
Phone: 302-571-9590 or 866-232-3714 (toll free)