Howard Pyle’s “In Knighthood’s Day” above, was painted as an illustration for a story about a fugitive queen with her servant, here trying to evade a search party of mounted knights in the gloom of the late day. In the book Visions of Adventure, Walt Reed writes:
Pyle, as a good dramatist, did not give away the plot. In fact, a principal function of the illustration was to induce the casual browser to read the story. Here the question is still open – will the couple avoid capture?
This ability to induce the viewer to ask questions, to wonder and become curious, really is golden when it comes to narrative art. Besides the use of body language, the gloomy light fuses the shape of the knight with that of the background, turning him into a huge menacing shade. The sliver of daylight in the horizon can be interpreted as how close they are of being apprehended.
One can also note the painting technique as adding to the mood. The handling is rough and diffuse, the faces are indistinct. Pyle lets emotive qualities trump detail, and therefore life can be harboured, without becoming petrified. I made some studies in order to further understand these qualities in the painting.
The faces cannot be said to be beautiful, but their conveying of a particular emotion is all the stronger for it. I did not strive towards a likeness, but rather to study and understand what captured this emotion. I also like when background and subject aren’t separate entities, but all equally important parts of the picture plane. In that way, a neighbouring rhythm or texture can complement what the figure expresses. An example of that is the crest with the lion next to the queen. I wanted to see if I could further tune up the sense of threat that I felt from it, and therefore tilted it and inverted its tones.
The thumbnail study focuses more on the general rhythms and shapes. Here I think it is quite clear how the body language adds to the impression. The way the red-shirted servant shrinks and almost crawls past the towering knight, who nigh resembles a storm cloud against the sky. In that way too, the painting is quite exceptional. The mood is expressed by the characters, but also in a purely abstract, musical sense.
Suggestive qualities like these are something I value in art, since it gives room for the viewer to engage in and participate in the piece. It is something I want to put further thought into in my own work.