Later this year, the Fenimore Art Museum will be presenting a big show featuring the works of the first family of American art, the Wyeths, in a show titled The Wyeths: A Family Legacy. I have written several times here about my admiration for the work of family patriarch NC Wyeth and son, Andrew Wyeth. Their work is woven into the cloth of American art and this should be a great exhibit highlighting their work as well as other talented members of the clan. Also included in this show will be work by the great American illustrator, Howard Pyle, who was the teacher and mentor to NC.
Although his name is not nearly as well known as many who followed in his footsteps, it’s hard to overstate the influence that Pyle (1853-1911) had on future generations of American illustrators and artists. He was huge in his time, a celebrity who mingled with the great writers and thinkers of the time. His illustrations for many of the most popular magazines of that time, based on the great stories of literature, shaped how we saw those stories. Cinematographers, costumers and set designers took their clues from Pyle’s visions of the stories they were staging. For example, his vision of Robin Hood became the idealized version that we came to know in the old Errol Flynn classic movie. His idea of the pirates of Treasure Island became ours. His cowboys, knights and explorers ingrained themselves into our collective psyche as we saw them on the page and on the movie screen.
There is an interesting sidebar to the extent of Pyle’s fame. In a letter to his brother, Theo, Vincent Van Gogh wrote ” Do you know an American magazine Harpers Monthly? There are wonderful sketches in it…which struck me dumb with admiration…by Howard Pyle” His work may have been illustration but it was pure art as well and the eye of Van Gogh could see that in the line work and rhythm of his compositions. I know that I am always inspired by his work and the that of his acolytes, including NC Wyeth and Norman Rockwell. I am really looking forward to seeing his work alongside the Wyeths this year at the Fenimore. It should be a memorable show.