Skip to Content
Search Icon
Issue 15 – Lent 2023


Howard Pyle

On the American illustrator.


One frosty autumn day Howard Pyle brought his students outdoors to find some wild hickory nuts. After they had gathered up the fallen harvest from alongside the banks of a millstream, they noticed many more nuts resting on the stream bottom. “Well boys, there is only one way to get them,” Pyle said. He removed his shoes and stockings and rolled up the sleeves of his sweater. He waded into the icy water, plunging his arms down to the streambed to gather the remainder. Pyle did not allow the moment to pass without a lesson. “The poor soldiers at Valley Forge felt the cold, just as we feel the cold now,” he said. “The ragged lot that marched against the Hessians at Trenton felt the icy water and the numbing cold, and I don’t believe it’s possible to paint a picture of that sort within the four walls of your studio unless you feel the cold even as they did.”

And in Pyle’s illustration Washington and Steuben at Valley Forge (ca. 1890–1896), the cold is palpable. The two leaders trudge through the snowy camp as the soldiers give a desultory salute. The composition alternates dense clusters of figures with stark, empty expanses of snow and sky. The hard wind flutters a flag and tugs at the hem of Washington’s cloak.

You must or subscribe to read the rest of the article.

About the author

James Gurney

James Gurney is the artist and author best known for his illustrated book series Dinotopia.