Pyle’s Inspiration and Sources

Howard Pyle drew inspiration from the art and illustration of his time. In museums and private collections, Pyle saw original paintings, drawings, and prints by significant European and American artists. In addition, he encountered works of art through magazines, books, prints, and photomechanical reproductions. Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered, on view November 12, 2011 – March 4, 2012, highlighted works of art that inspired some of Pyle’s illustrations. The following four examples are featured in the exhibition.

2006-43 Lady_Lilith_158px

Scenes of the Middle Ages were particularly favored by Pyle. Pre-Raphaelite depictions of the medieval era were one source to which Pyle would have had ample exposure. Pyle could have seen Pre-Raphaelite works in prints and illustrations, as well as first-hand in the Wilmington collection of his contemporary, Samuel Bancroft.

2010-31_8 1973-26

Pyle was aware of and drew inspiration from the most recent stylistic developments in Europe, including the Symbolist movement. Pyle’s 1900 drawing Truth Leaves the Fairies’ Wonderland shares elements with Aubrey Beardsley’s controversial illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salome, first published in the 1890s. Both artists used elongated figures and sharp recession for their dramatic black and white images.

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Beginning with the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867, the contemporary art world was gripped by a craze for Japanese art. Artists James Abbott McNeill Whistler, James Tissot, and Edgar Degas were particularly influenced by Japanese woodblock prints. Clearly, Pyle was also aware of these prints, and his compositions demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of them. Pyle’s images often feature flat, almost two-dimensional depictions, strong diagonals, sharp cropping, and an effectively restrained use of color.

pollice-verso 1965-17

Pyle’s depictions of the ancient world may have been inspired by the French academic artist, Jean-Léon Gérôme, whose work was extremely popular in the United States. Pyle could have seen Gérôme’s paintings in public and private collections in Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore. He also would have encountered them in books and magazines, and as widely disseminated prints and photomechanical reproductions.