The Yale Club Bookplate

Howard Pyle was born on this day in 1853. He was the first of the golden age American illustrators, followed by his pupil N.C. Wyeth. Through Pyle a faint Pre-Raphaelite influence came to characterize the genre.

It interested me to discover a work by Pyle that I had seen many times before noticing his initials: the ex-libris of The Yale Club of New York City. Pyle’s design was commissioned in 1905. The plate was engraved by Edwin Davis French, whom Pyle described as “the best engraver in the world.” The ex-libris is affixed to every book in the clubhouse library.

Wyeth in Camelot

I have previously noted my affection for the golden-age American illustrator Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945). His luminous interpretations of boys’ adventure novels from Treasure Island to The Last of the Mohicans have been imprinted on the imagination of several generations.

Wyeth did his best work illustrating Medieval romances, which is not surprising given that his mentor Howard Pyle specialized in the genre. In 1917 Wyeth followed up his breakthrough edition of Treasure Island with a subject previously popularized by Pyle himself: the adventures of Robin Hood.

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Robin Hood And His Merry Men

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Robin and His Mother Go to Nottingham Fair

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Robin Meets Maid Marian

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Robin Hood and His Companions Lend Aid to Will o’ th’ Green

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Little John Sings a Song at the Banquet

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The Passing of Robin Hood

The same year Wyeth tackled the great chivalric subject: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The Boy’s King Arthur was a loose adaptation of Malory by the American poet Sidney Lanier, first published in 1880.

Today the book is mostly remembered for Wyeth’s illustrations. One can see the lingering influence of the Pre-Raphaelite artists on Wyeth via the Brandywine School where Pyle taught.

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So the child was delivered unto Merlin, and so he bare it forth

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And when they came to the sword that the hand held, King Arthur took it up

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I am Sir Launcelot du Lake, King Ban’s son of Benwick, and knight of the Round Table

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It hung upon a thorn, and there he blew three deadly notes

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The lady Lyonesse … had the dwarf in examination

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“Oh, gentle knight,” said la Belle Isoud, “full woe am I of thy departing”

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Sir Mador’s spear broke all to pieces, but the other’s spear held

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Then the king … ran towards Sir Mordred, crying, “Traitor, now is thy death day come”

In 1922 Wyeth illustrated The Legends of Charlemagne, one of three titles written in the 1850s and 1860s by Thomas Bulfinch, later compiled as Bulfinch’s MythologyThe Legends of Charlemagne collects tales of the twelve Paladins.

The majority of the stories are drawn from the sixteenth century Italian epic Orlando Furioso, which includes many fantastic elements: a sea monster and flying horse among them.

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The Midnight Encounter

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Prince Leo Presents Rogero to Charlemagne

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Orlando and the Giant Ferragus

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The Fight on the Bridge

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The Winged Horse

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Angelica and the Orc

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Death of Orlando

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Ogier and Morgana