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.