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  • Howard Pyle's Manuscripts:The Delaware Art Museum
  • Rowland Elzea (bio)

(editor's note: The following article is excerpted from the Delaware Art Museum publication Howard Pyle: Works in the collection of the Delaware Art Museum with the author's permission. ChLA is grateful to the museum in its help in locating a Pyle illustration previously unpublished and for supplying the Pyle photograph included in this special section.)

A career in writing and illustrating seems to have been in store for Howard Pyle from his birth in Wilmington on March 5, 1853. His family was highly literate and cultivated and the young Pyle was exposed to the illustrated magazines, papers and books with which they surrounded themselves. The family subscribed to Punch, so he saw illustrations by Leech, Doyle and Tenniel in that journal. Among the family's favorite authors were Dickens, Thackeray, Jerrold and Trollope, so he probably saw editions illustrated by such English book artists as Cruikshank, Keerie and members of the Pre-Raphaelite group. However, not unnaturally, his boyish taste seems to have run to fairy stories and tales from English folklore and his first literary and graphic efforts were attempts to emulate these.

Many of Pyle' s concepts were a product of the Arts and Crafts movement. This had its origins in the Gothic Revival in England in the 1840s which directed earlier English Romanticism into a firm position in reaction to the depersonalization inherent in the Industrial Revolution. Much of the art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in all media, was an attempt to deal with this development and its implications either by acceptance, compromise or evasion.

The Arts and Crafts Movement grew from Morris's and Ruskin's ideas and became firmly established in the 1880s when Pyle's career was beginning. The Arts and Crafts style in illustration, in its early years at least, can be described as the combination of the heavy black line of medieval German and Renaissance Italian woodcuts, medieval subject matter and the basic curvilinear and dense Victorian decorative style. Walter Crane's illustrations of the 1880s are an example of this combination and may be the source from which Pyle drew for the illustrations for his medieval stories such as Otto of the Silver Hand, the King Arthur series and others. Other stylistic influences on Pyle's work can be seen in his indebtedness to the French illustrator Daniel Vierge in his Twilight Land pictures with their taut, sketchy, fast-moving line, and in the influence of Charles Keene in some of the early fables and humorous children's stories. His insistence on a high degree of historical and visual accuracy may have been learned from Edwin Austin Abbey's example in the workrooms at Harper's.

By late 1879, Pyle felt that the Brandywine valley offered untouched resources for illustration as well as a release from the pressures of New York. A satisfactory arrangement was made with Harper's for having work sent to him in Wilmington and so he returned to his home territory.

The large number of selected students who passed under Pyle's tutelage from 1894 to 1910 formed a numerous and powerful group of young illustrators which provided a considerable portion of the illustrators of the first quarter of the 20th century and the teachers of many of those of the second quarter. N. C. Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, Stanley Arthurs, Harvey Dunn, Gayle Hoskins, Elizabeth S. Green and Jessie W. Smith are only a few of them.

After the death of Howard Pyle, a memorial exhibition of his work was held in Wilmington in March, 1912. At the same time a spontaneous movement was started to acquire a public collection of his pictures. About eighty paintings and pen drawings were purchased by general subscription, and The Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts was founded and empowered to act as custodian.

In 1915, 69 black and white illustrations were purchased from Charles Scribner's Sons, and added to this nucleus.

In 1919, 50 pen drawings were secured through the kind offices of Mr. Willard S. Morse.

In 1920, 11 vignettes and pen drawings were purchased from Mrs. Howard Pyle.

In 1923...


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