They languished in storage for years, but now, the first mural project of famed illustrator Howard Pyle are back on display.
The murals survived a fire and were stuck in storage for decades. Now, three quarters of a century later, Howard Pyle’s first murals are back on display at the Delaware art museum.
Howard Pyle is best known for his illustration work. His wonderful depictions of knights, damsels in distress, rouges and more have graced the pages of many books in his and our time.
Lesser known are his mural projects. Toward the end of his career, Pyle decided to move from small paintings to the larger format of murals. His first attempt was a series of panels he painted that were displayed in his Wilmington home.
“There was a fire in that building and that made them very difficult to remove,” said Margaretta Frederick, the Annette Woolard-Provine Curator of the Bancroft Collection at the Delaware Art Museum. The fire caused great damage and made the panels difficult to remove, so they stayed in the house until 1923 when they were conserved and moved to the Wilmington Public Library.
From there the panels were put in storage and it was only recently that, “through the kindness of two foundations, the Marmot Foundation and the Starret Foundation that we were able to gather enough funding to both carry out the conservation and to put the murals in place,” Frederick said.
For his first mural experiment, Pyle could have chosen almost any subject. “It was really for him a test a private experiment to see if he could do this,” Frederick said.
She describes the the theme for the panels as “the goddess of letters is blind and only she of art can lend her sight.” That idea is depicted in the two large panels of the mural in one, “The genius of literature, you can see literature is being sung on a harp the way it would have been in classical times,” Frederick said.
Depicted on the second large panel is the genius of art. “You have art with a mirror held up to nature reflecting the eye opening experience that the visual can provide.” You can see pictures of both panels below.
Pyle later got commissions for his mural work, and several examples still exist today. One is located in the Hudson County Courthouse in New Jersey, and another can be found in the Minnesota State Capitol building.
“I think the history of a work of art once its completed and how it travels through time is almost as fascinating as the work of art itself,” Frederick said.
“I have seen theses hanging in our storage area for many years and I have always loved these paintings and I think, if anything, the surprise was that they’re as wonderful as I thought were.”