Pirates in the Art of Howard Pyle

Happy Veteran’s Day to all those men and women who have sacrificed so much so that all of us Americans could enjoy our freedom. Whether you served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard, our debt to you is profound. We honor and respect you and thank you for the freedoms we enjoy.

MAROONED!!! 8X10

Arrrrgh! Sorry I be’s late with this communicado, but me and me pirate wench have been held incommunicado this past weekend. We were bivouacked at the Waccamaw Artists Guild’s Art in the Park at Chapin Park, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

My wife creates Little Books of Mirth that she absconded from fairies who live in the woods behind our humble abode. She learned that trick from the best of pirates. But she be just as famous for her beautiful shell wreaths made with shells from beaches around the world where many a pirate and mariner have been marooned.

As fer me, me art comprises of photographs I took while pillaging’ and plunderin’ from Cape Cod to the Caribbean. One of me favorites is a diorama I discovered celebrating Homer Pyle’s painting Marooned. It depicts a solitary pirate sitting on an abandoned beach, a bandana wrapped about his head, shoulders slumped, lost in thought, no doubt contemplating the events that led to his situation. No doubt, one of those somber thoughts, is about what is to transpire with no worldly possession in reach other than a swallow of rum and a pistol.

Ye see, mates, pirates were frequently marooned on an inhospitable island with nothing more than a bit of rum and a pistol with one ball to speed his end at his own hand. It was a fate assigned to that pirate who didn’t play well with other pirates.

Howard Pyle is also known for two other easily recognizable paintings of pirates. One is of a blindfolded man, hands tied, ready to walk the plank. In the background, several pirates leer gleefully, exhorting the victim to the edge.

No doubt, Pyle got his ideas of pirates from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Alexander Exquemelin who served as physician among pirates. While Exquemelin’s embellished accounts in The Buccaneers of America are grounded in fact, Stevenson’s poetic license resulted in the creation of several pirate myths that thrive to this day.

The truth is there are only one or two accounts of pirates making their victims walk the plank. Not being well known for their patience, pirates devised a much quicker method of disposing of unwanted mariners. “Run a saber through the bloke and throw the body overboard. Alive or dead. Makes no difference to me,” pretty much captures their attitude.

However, considering that some captains and crews were, indeed, sadistic, it’s not hard to visualize pirates delighting in the torment of a blindfolded victim teetering on a plank extended over the sea.

The third famous painting of Howard Pyle captures a scene on the beach. In the bottom left foreground is a partially buried treasure chest. Occupying the prominent part of the painting are two pirates locked in a death struggle. The rest of the crew surround them, relishing each subtle movement of the fight, as they lewdly smile, betting who will be the victor.

Though one can only guess what started the struggle- an evil glance, an accusation, a disagreement or curse, Howard Pyle can be credited with combining fact and fiction in this masterpiece. The fact is pirates rarely buried treasure; they were too busy spending it on rum and wenches to have the inclination or time to bury it though there is evidence that some pirates did bury treasure. Countless men have sought Captain William Kidd’s treasure but never found so much as a piece of eight.

As for pirates duking it out on a beach, Pyle hit the nail on the head. Pirate code forbade anyone from fighting on board a ship. Dissension was bad for the morale and unity needed to make a pirate ship the lean, mean fighting machine it was meant to be. When pirates had a dispute, they had to hold their grievance till they got to shore where they could settle their difference.

Howard Pyle‘s  vast collection of work spans far beyond pirates. Not only was he well known for his school in which he trained other prominent artists, but, because of his remarkable work with pen and ink, he is known as the Father of American Illustration.

As I wrote this piece, I had this eerie sense of Howard Pyle standing over my shoulder and smiling. The piece was mostly written when I went back to research a couple of facts. He was born March 05, 1853 and passed away in Italy in 1911 on November 09, THE DATE I WROTE THIS PIECE. So say a little prayer for a great American illustrator. He was the one who shaped what pirates were to look like in movies for over a hundred years. Errol Flynn and Johnny Depp owe a great debt to him as do we all. Wherever you are tonight, Howard, Sail on! May you have fair winds and following seas! Thanks for sharing your vision and talent. You are a great artist!

            If ye have the liver for it, mates, come visit me and me pirate wench next weekend, November 14 and 15, at the Market Commons in Myrtle Beach for another Art in the Park. We be’s at Valor Park dedicated to all the veterans who fought so hard for our country. And if ye be a vet, stop by and let me give ye a little gift to show me thanks for the sacrifices ye made.

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3 thoughts on “Pirates in the Art of Howard Pyle

  1. Terrific piece on Artists especially Howard Pyle who liked to paint Pirates and your thoughts on why the three paintings were so popular and on the anniversary of his death. It is amazing with all your research on this particular day you just happened to write about him…. I loved the article and I’m looking forward to seeing you on the weekend. Maureen

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  2. Howard Pyle was an incredible artist who helped bring out the best in other artists. I’m looking forward to Art in the Park at Market Commons. I’m sure Howard Pyle would love it too. See you there.

    Like

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