Early in 1903, illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911) began work on a set of nine wall-sized panels for the drawing room of his home at 907 Delaware Avenue in Wilmington, Delaware. The Museum
announced that all nine panels are now on view in their entirety for the first time in 75 years. They have been semi-permanently installed in the Museums second floor Vinton Illustration Galleries.
While two of the panels were on view during the Howard Pyle retrospective exhibition in 2011-2012, which celebrated the Museums 100th anniversary, the complete set has recently undergone conservation work. Thanks to a generous grant from the Marmot Foundation, the complete set of murals has been conserved by Mark Bockrath of Barbara Buckley Associates in preparation for display. The Museum also received a gift from the Starrett Foundation to install the panels. Although no pictures exist of the original installation in Pyles home, the new display is designed to suggest a turn-of-the-century interior.
Pyle began work on the nine mural panels in 1903 during a time when the decoration of public buildings was a flourishing national trend. Within a few years, he devoted himself entirely to mural painting, traveling to Florence to study Renaissance examples. The murals on display at the Museum represent Pyles earliest known attempt in this genre, and were executed both for purposes of experimentation and in the hope of attracting work. To this end, Pyle was successful, receiving a commission to decorate the Minnesota State Capital building in 1906.
Two large panels titled The Genius of Art and The Genius of Literature celebrate the illustrators expertise in bringing the written word to visual life. In the first panel a female figure, clad in semi-transparent draperies with two peacocks, leads a procession of admiring followers. The scene is filled with movement and bright color. The second of the two large panels depicts a somberly garbed figure playing a classical lyre. Before her, a small group listens attentively. Other panels augment this theme, with single figure images of the muses of Drama and Music, as well as several decorative scenes.
The murals remained in Pyles Delaware Avenue home until 1923, when they were removed from the walls by Professor Pasquale Farina of Philadelphia. The murals were installed in an exact replica of Pyles drawing room with a marble mantelpiece and an ornamental plaster ceiling in the new Wilmington Public Library. Due to conservation challenges, they have remained in storage since the time of their removal from the Library.
Howard Pyle was one of Americas most popular illustrators and storytellers. At his death, he was designated by the New York Times as the father of American magazine illustration as it is known today. His illustrations appeared in magazines like Harpers Monthly, Colliers Weekly, St. Nicholas, and Scribners Magazine, gaining him national and international exposure. Pyles images and stories of American history and tales of pirates and medieval adventurers. Pyles influence and images continue to inform popular culture, including Disneys Pirates of the Caribbean.