Brandywine River Museum

Chadds Ford, PA

(610) 388-2700


Diversity of Line: Works in Pen and Ink from the Collection


Magazine and book publishers, especially, capitalized on the less expensive photoengraving process and at the same time attained better quality. Numerous pen illustrations filled the pages of such magazines as Century, Scribner's, Cosmopolitan and Harper's. Such work was in great demand, and illustrators prospered as a result of technological advances.

Excellent draftsmen such as Thomas Nast, Edwin Austin Abbey, Howard Pyle, Arthur Burdett Frost, Franklin Booth, Joseph Clement Coll, Reginald Marsh, and N.C. Wyeth, among others, emerged as masters of the pen technique. More recently, artists such as Al Hirschfeld and David Levine have upheld the tradition. Their command of the medium has produced works that give character to their subjects.

Despite a distinct and shared method among these artists, a wide degree of individual expression in line and content is evident. Thomas Nast, for example, was one of America's early illustrators in pen and ink and also one of America's greatest political cartoonists. He is credited with creating the mascots for the Republican and Democratic Parties, the elephant and the donkey. In the works, Let Him Go and Bismarck Putting It in His Pipe to Smoke, strong lines dominate, but soft shadows also give the images a delicate quality that contrasts with Nast's biting wit.

In comparison, Arthur Burdett Frost drew apolitical images that were a strong influence in the development of comic books and cartoon strips. Frost specialized in rural subjects with lanky, rumpled heads of shaggy hair and large unruly beards. Animals were equally parodied, as in All Paint and No Engine. Frost's pen and ink drawings combine both expression and movement.

Although Howard Pyle worked in a variety of media, he is often acknowledged for his pen work. His drawings for his own books of fairy tales, legends and other stories for children are well known. Stylistically, many of his early illustrations are linked to the Pre-Raphaelites and to Renaissance influences such as Albrecht Durer and Lucas Cranach. Both The Wonder Clock and King Stork reflect such borrowings and contain texture, ornamentation and decorative elements that are distinctly Pyle's.

Pyle's contemporary, Edwin Austin Abbey, was an American draftsman of high repute. And Strove the Maids to Win is characteristic of his early work in which there is simplicity to the visual narrative and a notable absence of detail. When Abbey moved to England in 1878, he was heavily influenced by Pre-Raphaelite painting and English literature. His subsequent work became romantic and greatly expressive. Abbey's drawings became so refined that not even the best engraving could reproduce every line.

Other major artists represented in Diversity of Line include Franklin Booth, Joseph Clement Coll and Reginald Marsh. Booth learned his line technique by copying works from steel and wood engravings. His dramatic Industrial Struggle uses etched lines to convey a sober assessment of the working class. Coll, like Booth, was a masterful technician who used cross-hatching and negative space to create illustrations such as those published in Galloping Dick. The well-known artist Reginald Marsh used a nervous yet fluid line when working in pen and ink. His delicately drawn illustration for Moll Flanders focuses on the seamier side of 18th century society.

In the mid and late 20th century, Al Hirschfeld's genius lies in an uncanny ability to capture his subjects with only a few deft that are extraordinarily various. Since the 1930s, he has created portraits of actors and performers in American theatre such as Peter Ustinov, Boris Karloff and George C. Scott. David Levine, a practitioner of simple lines, has focused most of his effort on caricatures of celebrities in art, literature, history and politics, as in a depiction of General Custer.

Visitors will also delight in N.C. and Andrew Wyeth's fine drawings. N.C. Wyeth devoted most of his time to illustrating on large canvases filled with fictional characters and atmosphere. His pen drawings for these stories were smaller works. Rendered in fluid lines, his four drawings in the exhibition were produced in 1918 for The Mysterious Island. In 1940, N.C.'s son, Andrew Wyeth, illustrated Henry Seidel Canby's The Brandywine in pen and ink. These and other expressive drawings such as Road Cut and McVey House are images of local subjects to which a special portion of the exhibition will be dedicated.

Continuing through September 7, Diversity of Line: Works in Pen and Ink from the Collection presents a delightful collection drawn from an important and growing portion of the museum's permanent holdings.

Upper right: Arthur Burdett Frost, All Paint and No Engine, n.d., watercolor and ink on paper; upper left: Arthur Burdett Frost, Ferocious Lion, n.d., pen and ink on paper


The Brandywine River Museum is open daily, except Christmas Day, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Selections from the museum's permanent collection are always exhibited. For information on works currently on view call (610) 388-2700.

Text and images courtesy of The Brandywine River Museum.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10

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