Growing up, our neighbors had a print hung over the door that led into the hallway of their brick bungalow in Oklahoma City. I was pretty young, and not very tall, but I could see the image in the old, dark frame well enough to know that it was a man on horseback, facing to my right. I thought he might be a knight or a Crusader, but I never asked anyone. I had seen similar pictures in books about knights that my dad got me at the library, but none that looked exactly the same. Then we moved to California, and I filed the image away in my mind, knowing I would recognize it instantly if I ever saw it again.
As an adult, I had given up hope of ever finding it again. I thought it might have been a Pre-Raphaelite image, but I never found it in any of the collections I pored over. Apparently I had just been looking in the wrong places.
Newell Convers Wyeth was an American artist and illustrator. As a young man he studied with Howard Pyle at Pyle’s School of
Illustration Art in 1902. At the turn of the century, hand-drawn illustration was the preferred method of interpretation for both books and magazine articles and covers. Photography did not yet predominate as an illustrative medium, and this created a truly “golden age” of American illustration. Wyeth quickly found his own style, differing from Pyle’s in technique. Where Pyle painted in great detail, Wyeth tended toward a looser style, with shadowy, moody backgrounds. By 1903 he was working professionally as an illustrator, beginning his career with a bucking bronco on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1903. He also illustrated books.
Since this isn’t usually an art blog, I will simply share some of his work with you, and mention that I was reminded of Wyeth when ECW reviewed Jeffrey Hunt’s Meade and Lee After Gettysburg, which can be found at https://emergingcivilwar.com/2017/09/26/book-review-meade-and-lee-after-gettysburg/. When I saw the cover of Hunt’s book, I remembered how much I loved Wyeth’s work, and was pleased that so many images were available on line. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do, especially the portraits of the generals.
As I looked over the pictures and drawings, choosing ones for this post, I found it: the picture over the door. It was not a knight in shining armor on a gaily-caparisoned steed. It is an anxious Civil War soldier on a tired horse. It is an illustration from a book by Mary Johnston called The Long Roll, and I was lucky enough to find a copy of this book on eBay. It is my picture, and yes, I knew it as soon as I saw it.
“On Picket,” by NC Wyeth