|The Delaware Art Museum’s rich and unique illustration collection was founded in 1912 with over 100 works by Wilmington artist Howard Pyle, one of America’s most famous illustrators and storytellers from the mid-1870s until his death in 1911. Within a decade, the founders decided to broaden the collections to include work by Pyle’s students, the generation of artists known as the Brandywine School of illustration. In the last century, gifts, bequests, and purchases have enhanced the collection, which now numbers in the thousands, and encompasses work by a broad array of American illustrators. Such a treasury provides opportunities to change our illustration galleries regularly, presenting old favorites along with works rarely seen and newly acquired. On April 25, the Sue Ann and John L. Weinberg Gallery of American Illustration re-opened with a new fresh perspective featuring the range of imagery–romantic adventure, fascination with high society, the allure of the West, nostalgia for simpler times as well as love of the modern–that testifies to the vigorous presence of the illustrator in American life from the late 19th to the mid-20th century.Among the first illustrations by artists other than Howard Pyle to enter the Museum’s collection was a scene from the The Medicine Ship, by Pyle’s premier student N. C. Wyeth, purchased in 1920. Wyeth’s talent for picturesque setting and mood animate this adventure story about a ship that transports medicinal herbs from South America. In a palatial home decorated with colorful lanterns, surrounded by the sound of the harp, an old sailor twirls his wineglass, while his companions–one professorial and one dissolute–look on. The colorful cast of characters, and especially their gestures and facial expressions, complement the engaged reader’s experience of the text, and invite the casual viewer to explore further.
Many works in the collection are testaments to the generosity of individuals who have recognized the Museum’s commitment to the study and preservation of work from the period that has become known as The Golden Age of American illustration. In 1979, the Museum purchased Gayle Hoskins’ illustration for the short story Roads of Doubt, thanks to the generous bequest of his widow. Typical of the melodramatic fiction of women’s magazines in the 1920s, the story features a roadside confrontation that highlights class differences, romantic loyalties, and style (fashion and automotive) in one scene. Hoskins’ dramatic night lighting recalls his experience with stage design during his years with the Wilmington Drama League.
One of the most heartening aspects of the Museum’s ongoing collecting activity are gifts from artists’ descendants who have recognized and preserved their family’s artistic legacy. In 2011, a granddaughter of Katharine Richardson Wireman helped the Museum discover and acquire a long-lost painting created as a cover for the popular national magazine The Country Gentleman.The domestic humor of the 1916 Christmas scene of a grandfatherly man and a little boy–competitors for a new toy–would have resonated with many households.
These works and many more will be on view in the galleries through mid-August.
Mary F. Holahan
This Curator Corner was posted on April 30, 2013.