Howard Pyle at the Delaware Art Museum

PyleAttackOnAGalleonImages from the Delaware Art Museum collections.

For my birthday this year, Ellen and I went to the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, Delaware and enjoyed an impressive collection of art that’s right in my centers of interest. I have lots of pictures, so I’m going to spread them over three posts, beginning with the work of Howard Pyle (1853-1911).

Pyle was a native of Wilmington with a long career as a painter, magazine illustrator, author and teacher. The museum has a large and excellent display of his illustrations and paintings, several with a pirate theme, as above attack on a spanish galleon.

PyleBurningShipWhether working in color or black and white, as was usually required for interior magazine illustrations, Pyle’s mastery of lighting, action and storytelling is clear.

PyleBurningShipDetailDetails of the burning ship painting above. Pyle worked precisely and often at sizes not a lot larger than the work would be printed.

PyleExhortingTributeFromTheCitizensPirates exhorting tribute from the citizens of a town. Pyle often painted in color even when he knew the image would be reproduced in black and white, in order to have a more appealing painting to sell. He needed a good eye for value to make this work.

PyleExhortingTributeDetailDetail from the painting above.

PyleMaroonedIn this pirate painting, “Marooned,” you can see the deft use of composition to emphasize the feeling of isolation, and the impressive use of color. Pyle’s “School of Illustration Art” trained many of the best American Illustrators that followed him, including N.C. Wyeth, and you can see Pyle’s influence in many of Wyeth’s own paintings, including those for “Treasure Island.” The long list of Pyle students who went on to illustration careers of their own includes Frank Schoonover, Harvey Dunn and Jessie Willcox Smith.

PyleOnTheEdgeOfTheRingAnother pirate plunder image making good use of a limited palette of colors.

PyleSoTheTreasureWasDividedPirates dividing their loot on a sandy shore, with back lighting for added drama.

PyleTheBuccaneerPyle’s “The Buccaneer.” An interesting thing I learned from the exhibit was that Pyle had little to go on as far as what the pirates wore, so he invented these costumes for them. His ideas were imitated by Wyeth and other illustrators, then adopted by Hollywood, where they are still in use today in films like “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

PyleTheComingTidePyle’s “The Coming Tide,” from a story by James Branch Cabell, an author I like, though I haven’t read this one. In his long career Pyle illustrated all kinds of subjects and genres.

PyleAWolfHadNotBeenSeenUnlike many illustrators, Pyle also wrote stories for magazines himself, like “The Salem Wolf,” illustrated here.

PyleQueenMorganaPyle also wrote and illustrated a number of books for young readers, including a four-volume retelling of the King Arthur legends. An example of his line illustrations for those is shown here and it suggests possible inspiration for Hal Foster’s “Prince Valiant” comic strip. Other books written and illustrated by Pyle include “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Otto of the Silver Hand,” and “Men of Iron.”

PyleGardenBehindMoon1 One of Pyle’s illustrations for his own book, “The Garden Behind the Moon.” It’s a book I haven’t read, and I bought an inexpensive reprint at the museum that I’ll be getting to one day. There are ten illustrations for the book on display, and it looks like an entertaining fantasy, though with a dark side.

Next time, more American Illustrators on display at the Delaware Art Museum.

2 thoughts on “Howard Pyle at the Delaware Art Museum

  1. Clem Robins

    Todd, how have Pyle’s oils paintings aged? neither he nor his contemporaries, including Rockwell, thought much about permanence, and were kind of flippant about it. but Rockwell’s oils continue to stand up to the decades and, judging from these reproductions, so did Pyle. does that tally with what you saw? is the stuff cracking? are the colors still holding up?

    Maxfield Parrish’s paintings, despite the lofty claims made for the permanence of his glaze technique, are falling to pieces.

  2. Todd Post author

    They looked good to me. On one or two the varnish was a little dark, and could be cleaned, but otherwise they were fine. I went to a large Parrish exhibit in Philadelphia some years ago, and while the surfaces of some paintings were crackled, it didn’t affect the appearance of the art, and I didn’t see any that were falling apart.

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