Rarely seen Howard Pyle and fantasy artwork on display for IX Preview Weekend

June 29, 2016

Imaginative Realism combines classical painting techniques with narrative subjects, focusing on the unreal, the unseen, and the impossible. The Delaware Art Museum is partnering with IX Arts organizers to host the first IX Preview Weekend September 23 – 25, 2016 at the Museum, celebrating Imaginative Realism and to kick off IX9—the annual groundbreaking art show, symposium, and celebration dedicated solely to the genre. Imaginative Realism is the cutting edge of contemporary painting and illustration and often includes themes related to science fiction and fantasy movies, games, and books. A pop-up exhibition and the weekend of events will feature over 16 contemporary artists internationally recognized for their contributions to Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Marvel, DC Comics, Blizzard Entertainment, and Wizards of the Coast, among others.Portal, 2016. Donato Giancola. 60 in.x40 in. Oil on panel.

The weekend will also include after-hours events, performances, exclusive workshops with artists, talks, film screenings, artist signings, live demos, and games. The artists represented include Greg Hildebrandt, illustrator of the original Star Wars poster; Boris Vallejo, who is famous for his illustrations of Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian; Charles Vess, whose award-winning work graced the covers of Marvel and DC Comics; and Donato Giancola, known for his paintings for Lucasfilm, DC Comics, Playboy Magazine, and the Syfy Channel.

Other featured artists include Julie Bell, Bob Eggleton, Rebecca Leveille-Guay, Ruth Sanderson, Jordu Schell, Matthew Stewart, William O’Connor, David Palumbo, Dorian Vallejo, Michael Whelan, and Mark Zug. Each artist will present original work in the pop-up show, covering the gamut from illustration through personal/gallery work in a wide range of mediums. All artists represented will be present at the Museum over the course of the weekend.

Imaginative Realism

A movement named by James Gurney, the artist and writer who created the Dinotopia books, Imaginative Realism centers on ways in which imagined figures, objects, and scenes can be transposed into realistic imagery. Artists vary in their individual styles; among the shared motifs and inspirations are imagery from fantasy, mythology, and science fiction, and explorations of subconscious symbolism. But all Imaginative Realists use traditional and classical techniques in the creation of their narratives of the unreal, the unseen, and the impossible. These methods—often described as the drawing and painting techniques of the European Old Masters—are grounded in the curricula of 19th-century European academies.

The Imaginative Realism tradition harkens back to many of the great 19th century Romantic, Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian artists such as John Martin, Edward Burne-Jones, and John William Waterhouse, and moves through many of the great Golden Age illustrators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth. The Delaware Art Museum houses premier holdings of these movements. Rarely seen fantasy works from Pyle and other Golden Age illustrators will be displayed in the Museum’s permanent collection galleries during IX Preview Weekend.

With the mass exposure to imaginative subjects that has come with science fiction and fantasy movies, games, and books throughout the 20th century and up to the present, the imagery of these artists is more deeply embedded in the public consciousness and popular culture than ever before.

Museum Collection on display for IX Preview Weekend

As the Museum’s Curator of Illustration, I explored our collections to identify works that relate to Imaginative Realism. About thirty will be on view in the Peggy H. Woolard Howard Pyle Galleries and the John L. and Sue Ann Weinberg Gallery on the first floor. Each one offers us the chance to experience enchanting, fantastical and make-believe worlds. Here are just a few:

By Howard Pyle (1853-1911)

The drummer helps himself to the good things, for “King Stork,” by Howard Pyle, in Harper’s Young People, November 30, 1886. DAM 1923-61

In this fairy tale, a drummer has the ability to go about unseen. Here, he startles a princess (dining with a witch) who sees food disappearing but cannot see the drummer.

“What are my Lord’s commands?”, for “The Stool of Fortune,” by Howard Pyle, in Harper’s Young People, December 23, 1890. DAM 1920-34

The magical adventures of a soldier lead him to confront a menacing apparition who appears in a burst of flame. The spiky, bat-winged creature turns out to be a benevolent force who delivers him from danger.

“Thou art a wonder of wonders”, for “So it is With Them All,” by Howard Pyle, in Harper’s Young People, November 1, 1892. DAM 1985-106

In this story placed in the Middle East, a young girl is transported by a mysterious horseman to a subterranean garden, where she must kill a dove. That done, she beholds a winged apparition wearing a jeweled crown who praises her courage. The late 19th century in the United States and Europe saw a proliferation of folktales inspired by stereotypes of “exotic” Middle Eastern culture.

By Reginald Bathurst Birch (1856-1943)

“You are my prisoners! I’m Willy Jones, the boy detective!”, for “The Pirates’ Lair,” by Malcolm Douglas, in St. Nicholas, April 1919. DAM 1987-132

This is a dream sequence in which a little boy, about to overtake a group of treacherous and well-armed pirates, announces his presence. The illustration accompanies a poem that concludes:

A youth of twelve, indomitably brave,

Appeared and shouted, in stentorian tones:

“You are my prisoners! I’m Willy Jones,

The Boy Detective!” Rash, impulsive youth!

A boy against a hundred men, forsooth:

They would have finished him in one fell stroke!

But he was saved–thank goodness, he awoke!

By J. Allen St. John (1872)1957)

“This,” he said, “is the brain,” for

Swords of Mars, a fantasy novel by science fiction author Edgar Rice Burroughs, was the eighth in his series called Barsoom (his fictional name for the planet Mars). In the foreground, the protagonist John Carter, a mysterious character who does not remember his childhood and over time proves to be immortal, has been transported to Mars, where he takes on Martian characteristics in everything except his appearance. Here he listens as a Martian scientist explains his invention: a mechanical brain that will control a spacecraft. J. Allen St. John portrays Carter in heroic profile pose with defined musculature and the Martian as apparently boneless and enervated in comparison. Carter was the first of many similar interplanetary super-heroes, including Flash Gordon and Superman.

By Bertha Corson Day (1875-1968)

“Guleesh-na-guss-dhu,” in Where the Wind Blows, by Katharine Pyle (New York: R.H. Russell, 1902) DAM 1988-177

The story of Guleesh-na-guss-dhu appeared in nineteenth century compendia of Celtic lore. Guleesh “of the black feet” (so nicknamed as a youth because his father could not convince him to wash them) has many international adventures – including transport from Ireland by fairy horses–culminating in his marriage to a princess, seen here in a magically induced sleep. Day’s fluid and delicate illustrations gave the book, according to one critic, “a charm and character all its own.”


Mary F. Holahan
Curator of Illustration / Curator of Outlooks Exhibitions

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