Friday, August 28, 2009

Twice Marooned

Harpers Magazine published Howard Pyle's first version of "Marooned" in 1887. The pirate is resigned to his fate, punished by abandonment on a tiny island, with nothing but his hat, a bottle of rum, and a rifle.

A wave crashes in the distance, and a second wave washes up in the foreground, making it clear that this a small piece of real estate.

Pyle came back to the idea in an easel painting from 1909, which wasn't reproduced until Henry Pitz's biography decades later. Pyle's fascination with composition shines through the refinements that he made more than thirty years after his first version.

He pushes everything to the extreme. The pirate's pose is simpler and smaller in the vast emptiness. His stuff is gathered at his feet rather than strewn across the beach. The far sea is only a sliver. A cloud of gulls flies high in the sky behind him, mocking him. His second version benefits from his lifetime of teaching and learning about storytelling composition.
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More about the painting at "The Art of Storytelling."
See the original of the painted version, along with lots of other Pyles, at the Delaware Art Museum.

12 comments:

Erik Bongers said...

The 2nd version has the tension of an Andrew Wyeth.

I agree completely with the analysis. I'd dare to push it even further: the two versions define the much discussed and disputed boundary between illustration...and art.

Jeff said...

Sorry to say, I prefer the first version. The second scene strikes me as almost serene. To me, those hands tell the entire story in the first illustration - they are the hands of a man defeated.

blake said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DavidStill said...

In the later one I like how the man is small in relation to the vast emptyness around him, but I agree with Jeff that the pose in the first one is better

Romance said...

Great analysis. The second painting's sliver of water implies that the man has been sitting there long enough that the tide has gone out, leaving long stretches of beach. Excellent story telling.

zombietoaster said...

I prefered the island tiny looking as opposed to the bigger look of the second painting. Both the smaller area of the sea shown aswell as the reduced size of the character has mad the island become quite big in appearance. Void of life, but still, a pretty big island with lots of room to move around on.

jeanhuets said...

Something about the pose in the first one is more poignant. The man is a collapsed, hopeless, no-luck drunk. In the second one, the man looks as if he's made himself more comfortable or settled. The clasped hands? The more gracefully bowed head?

Steve said...

Apparently dejection, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

I feel the subtle change in the head and neck -- slightly more downward -- in the second painting conveys defeated resignation more powerfully than in the first. Yet, I agree the limp hands in the first are more expressive of defeat. More than the head and hands, however, the second painting's design -- the curled-up isolation in a vast, indifferent seascape -- strikes the stronger note. The figure in profile seems more vulnerable, less substantial than the three quarter view of the earlier painting. Also, in the first painting, the viewer is close to the pirate -- almost keeping him company. In the second, the viewer seems too far away to intrude on the scene, or to be of any help.

That said, I wonder how if I'd respond the same way if the second painting were presented in black and white.

Munchanka said...

I prefer the first version as well. The pose has more character and the water seems to be creeping in on him. You almost get the sense that, at high tide, there won't be much real estate left at all!

James Gurney said...

These are all interesting points of view, and you've increased my appreciation of the first version. Pyle himself surely would have loved this discussion....how little changes in a pose or a composition alter the mood and the story.

Scott Daly said...

I think there is something to be said about letting the composition determine the mood rather than the pose. Initially I like the original piece because of the figure however to me there is much more skill involved in pushing the piece this way. Simplicity is a lot harder than complexity, just look at Al Hirschfeld's work. Both pieces are incredible none the less. :)

Speaking of masters apparently Dean Cornwell did a mural at the Detroit Athletic Club, just a few blocks away from me! We just got permission to check it out. It's called The Treaty of Lancaster. I'll be sure to get some great detail shots and post it up on my blog. Take care.

zombietoaster said...

Didnt think of this before. But the fact that there are seagulls in the second picture indicates that there are real land nearby.