Howard Pyle (1853 1911) was one of Americas most popular illustrators and storytellers during a period of explosive growth in the publishing industry. A celebrity in his lifetime, Pyles widely circulated images of pirates, knights, and historical figures were featured in publications such as Harpers Monthly and were admired by artists and authors like Vincent Van Gogh and Mark Twain. Yet, despite his widespread popularity, Pyles reputation has survived only among illustration scholars and enthusiasts. Until now his work has been virtually omitted from the larger context of art history.
In celebration of the centenary of Pyles death, the Delaware Art Museum
presents Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered, a major retrospective exhibition featuring 79 paintings and drawings created by Pyle between 1876 and 1910, on view November 12, 2011 March 4, 2012. This exhibition presents a fresh perspective on Pyles familiar images, exploring his interaction with the art and culture of his time and effectively repositioning him within the broader spectrum of 19th-century art.
This retrospective exhibition also marks the 100th anniversary of the Delaware Art Museum, which was founded in 1912 to preserve and exhibit Pyles work following his untimely death in November 1911. The Museums Centennial Celebration begins 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.
Pyles unique approach to the art of illustration was honed through the intensive, self-directed study of the art of his time, which he experienced both in the original as well as through illustrated periodicals and books, reproductive prints, and fine art reproductions. The exhibition will include Pyles paintings alongside related works by contemporary American and European artists to show these fine art cross-currents. Three key themes represented in Pyles work will be highlighted in this exhibition:
Visions of the Past concentrates on Pyles depictions of history, including Roman gladiators and Medieval knights. His views of the classical world drew inspiration from the work of the French academic artist Jean-Leon Gérôme (1824 1904) and his numerous depictions of the Middle Ages show how conversant Pyle was with the works of the 19th-century Pre-Raphaelites.
Pyles pirate imagery is based on his own personal archive of costume books and historic manuscripts; however, his use of strong diagonals, flat compositional arrangements, and restrained placement of color suggests an understanding of the art worlds new-found interest in Japanese ukiyo-e 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.
Fairytale and Fantasy will focus on Pyles fairy tales and childrens illustrations, which show his knowledge of European illustrators, including Walter Crane (1845 1915) and Kate Greenaway (1846 1901). His depictions of the world of make-believe also reflect many of the themes and methods of European Aesthetic and Symbolist art.
America Past and Present highlights Pyles enthusiasm for the American Colonial Revival of the 1880s, which celebrated the history of the United States. Many of Pyles iconic Revolutionary War scenes seem to have been strengthened by knowledge of the work of the French Salon artist, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1814 1891), whose military scenes of the Napoleonic Wars were immensely popular.