Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 5, 2012

Howard Pyle at the Norman Rockwell Museum

A few days ago, Peter and I spent a happy afternoon seeing Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. Howard Pyle has inspired many who paint people in action, and often peril, by his work based on myths, King Arthur legends, folk tales, the Bible, and other narratives, many done for Scribner’s and other popular magazines.

Norman Rockwell was among the many illustrators who admired him. It’s too small to see in this image of Rockwell’s tall painting Family Tree (you’ll have to go to the show to see it!) but that treasure chest at the bottom bears the initials “H.P.” in his honor.

We’re told that Pyle compiled a large collection of antique furniture and clothing he had his models wear, but at the time, reliable references for pirates weren’t great, so he blended what he knew and imagination, which shaped our ideas of what a pirate looks like. He depicted lots of pirates, mermaids, sea adventures and creatures, and his waves have great blues and greens, and enough depth and movement to make me feel slightly seasick. Peter took this picture of me admiring one, then a close-up of a crab from his oil painting, The Mermaid.

Pyle was influenced by the precise lines, sharp edges, a rich detail, and romanticism of pre-Raphaelite artists, such as William Holman Hunt, and now and then the show puts such inspirations beside his work. The instructive cards at the side also tell us that the 1867 World Fair in Paris brought Japanese ukiy-e or woodblock prints to the attention of artists, who were influenced by the two dimensional look, sharp cropping, and flat color.

Pyle taught first at Philadelphia’s Drexel Institute of Art, before founding his own school in Delaware. He urged his students, including N. C. Wyeth and Jessie Willcox Smith (and the other “Red Rose Girls,” who he nicknamed) “to live in the picture” and “Imagine things vividly and make them as real as they are.” The exhibit runs through October 28, aka foliage season in the Berkshires.

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Responses

  1. “He urged his students,…“to live in the picture” and “Imagine things vividly and make them as real as they are.” Sage advice for all creative types, writers included! If we’re in the area, I’d like to see this exhibit up close, but thanks in the meantime, for bringing Pyle’s work to life.

    • Yes, you can feel the energy in his pictures, and I am trying to bring that kind of commitment to my words. I’ve loved his reproductions, but, as with most art, I suppose, you can see so much more, and appreciate the colors, with your nose pretty close to the canvas.

  2. I have admired Pyle and his school of artists since I was ten years old, leafing through old copies of those Scribner’s classics. Over the years, I’ve studied his work and especially the work of Jessie Willcox Smith, my favorite Golden Age illustrator (and the first American woman illustrator to earn a million dollars)–possibly my favorite illustrator of all time. Lucky, lucky you. I would have been tempted to sneak a picture under my shirt . . .

  3. Oh, I love to think of you leafing through those classics. You were such a cool ten year old. I’m also a big Jessie Wilcox fan, and seeing this exhibit inspired me to read a book called The Red Rose Girls, which Peter bought me, I’m sorry to say, some years ago. I have looked through the pictures often enough, but it’s time to read the text.

    I knew we couldn’t trust you around neighborhood lilacs, but now I know you’re one to watch in museums, too. This one is very friendly, so you can stand up close. I can tend to wave my arms when excited, and have set some buzzers off with my flailing palm, but that’s as close to crime as I get. Really.

  4. Thanks for coming to see the Pyle exhibit and for writing about the experience.

    I would like to make a tiny correction: the crab and fish seen at the bottom of Pyle’s Mermaid painting were added to the painting after Pyle left for Italy in 1910 (from which he never returned) to study mural painting. Frank Schoonover was a student in Pyle’s school and he added the sea creatures to Pyle’s unfinished painting.

    • Thank you for the correction and clarification. What a great show!


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