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Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)
Property from an Important Delaware Collection
Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)

"Oh, Morgan's men are out for you; and Blackbeard--buccaneer!..."

Details
Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)
"Oh, Morgan's men are out for you; and Blackbeard--buccaneer!..."
signed 'N.C. Wyeth' (lower right)
oil on canvas
50 ¼ x 35 in. (127.6 x 88.9 cm.)
Painted in 1917.
Provenance
The artist.
Mr. R.R.M. Carpenter, Wilmington, Delaware, acquired from the above, 1917.
By descent to the late owner from the above.
Literature
P.H. Fox, "The Golden Galleon," Scribner's Magazine, vol. 62, no. 2, August 1917, frontispiece illustration.
R.W. Clark, The Wreck of the Grosvenor, New York, n.d., dust-jacket and frontispiece illustration (as "They had shipped the mast in the longboat...").
O. G. Swan, Deep Water Days, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1929, o.p. 160, illustrated.
O. G. Swan, Anchors Aweigh!, New York, 1929, frontispiece illustration.
American History Illustrated, vol. II, no. 3, June 1968, color illustration.
D. Allen, D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, pp. 133, 277, illustrated.
C.B. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. 1, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2008, p. 362, no. I.698, illustrated.
Exhibited
Wilmington, Delaware, New Century Club, Sixth Annual Exhibition of the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, November 5-8, 1917, n.p., no. 163 (as Blackbeard).
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, William Penn Memorial Museum, N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Tradition, October 13-November 28, 1965, n.p., no. 71, (as Blackbeard, Buccaneer).
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Brandywine River Museum; New York, Cultural Center, N.C. Wyeth, May 20-December 31, 1972, n.p., no. 76 (as Blackbeard, Buccaneer).
Sotheby's, New York, Walker's Exhibits: Works of Art from the Private Collections of Alumnae Families of The Ethel Walker School, May 28-June 2, 1998 (as Blackbeard, Buccaneer).
Rockland, Maine, Farnswort Art Museum; Wilmington, Delaware, Delaware Art Museum, Woundrous Strange: The Wyeth Tradition, June 21, 1998-February 21, 1999, pp. 79, 165, no. 79, illustrated.
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Brandywine River Museum of Art; N.C. Wyeth: New Perspectives, June 22-September 15, 2019, p. 153, 210, no. 36, illustrated.

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William Haydock
William Haydock Head of Department

Lot Essay


“Our sails are softly flapping in the whisper of the breeze;
And our proud and stately stern and the pointed bow before
Are rising and are falling to the breathing of the seas;
And the pale moon floods the cockpit, and streaks the high-decked floor.

Oh, Morgans men are out for you;
And Blackbeardbuccaneer!
A score of pirates wait for you
With torture and with hate for you,
And not a touch of fear!

“Our lazy watch is slumbering beneath a roof of stars;
The noble Don, our Captain, is a Prince in purple dreams;
Only the weary moon beholds the tracery of spars,
As she pries into the cabins with her swords of silver beams.

Oh, Morgans men are out for you;
And Blackbeardbuccaneer!
A score of pirates wait for you
With torture and with hate for you,
And not a touch of fear!

“We bear a gorgeous cargo for our Master in Madrid;
There are rubies as big as a head, and ingots by the score;
Amulets of gold and gems, and anklets in a pyramid;
And yellow bars piled thick and high against the iron door.

Oh, Morgans men are out for you;
And Blackbeardbuccaneer!
A score of pirates wait for you
With torture and with hate for you,
And not a touch of fear!

“We had to be a trifle harsh to earn this honest hoard;
But racks and thumbscrews did the trick, persuading with their pain
The frightened natives to reveal what we have now on board;--
And we’re sailing with our treasure for the mighty King of Spain!”

Oh, Morgans men are out for you;
And Blackbeardbuccaneer!
A score of pirates wait for you
With torture and with hate for you,
And not a touch of fear!

- Paul Hervey Fox, "The Golden Galleon," Scribner's Magazine, August 1917



N.C. Wyeth’s best illustrations convey in one single image entire adventures of the daring figures he painted. Through his rousing imagery, Wyeth created archetypes of characters which have remained in our collective consciousness and inspired countless reinterpretations ever since. For no fabled subject is this more true than that of the pirate. Following in the footsteps of his mentor Howard Pyle, Wyeth established his reputation as America’s most prominent illustrator through his 1911 illustrations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. As epitomized by that seminal series as well as the present work, Wyeth’s pirate paintings transport the viewer into a world of imagination where larger-than-life figures like Blackbeard and Captain Morgan rule the seas and the next adventure is always just beyond the horizon.

The present work was painted in 1917 to accompany Paul Hervey Fox’s narrative poem, “The Golden Galleon.” It was published as the frontispiece of the August 1917 edition of Scribners Magazine. Later a playwright and screenwriter for movies, including Last Train from Madrid (1937), Fox poetically tells the tale of a crew of fortune hunters making their way across the dangerous seas to deliver their hoard of American gold and gems to the King of Spain. The dramatic refrain underscores the daring required to cross the pirate-infested waters: “Oh, Morgan’s men are out for you;/And Blackbeard—buccaneer!/A score of pirates wait for you/With torture and with hate for you,/And not a touch of fear!” (“The Golden Galleon,” Scribners Magazine, vol. LXII, no. 2, August 1917, p. 166)

Fox’s poem names two of the most famous buccaneers that ruled the waters off the Spanish-American colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries—Captain Morgan and Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. While these were real-life figures who were infamous during their lifetimes, their characters were later romanticized in literary sources like Charles Johnson’s 1724 A General Historie of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates. However, these men became the stuff of legend largely through the visual art created over a century later by American illustrator and Wyeth’s teacher, Howard Pyle. Pyle was fascinated with pirate tales, having summered in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, which has a rich history as a pirate haven, and also traveled to Jamaica on an assignment for Harpers Magazine. Walt Reed explains, “Some pirates, such as Captain Kidd, Edward Teach [Blackbeard], and Captain Morgan, became part of legend as their exploits were recounted in the chapbooks of their day. Still, at the turn of the century there was little public awareness of pirates until Howard Pyle undertook a systematic study of their history and began to write about them in articles, illustrated novels, and short stories. In August and September of 1887, Pyle published a two-part paper in Harpers Monthly entitled ‘Buccaneers and Marooners of the Spanish Main.’…Much of our contemporary conception of pirate images and practices can be traced directly back to Pyle. Certainly N.C. Wyeth’s famous illustrations for Treasure Island…among others, owe a great deal to Howard Pyle.” (W. Reed, “Pirates,” Visions of Adventure: N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Artists, New York, 2000, p. 38)

Indeed, in the present work, Wyeth depicts Blackbeard with the same drama and panache described by Pyle: “our hero assumed the cognomen of Blackbeard from that large quantity of hair which, like a frightful meteor, covered his whole face, and frightened America more than any comet that appeared there in a long time…his eyes naturally looking fierce and wild, made him altogether such a figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a Fury from hell to look more frightful.” (“Buccaneers and Marooners of the Spanish Main,” Harpers New Monthly Magazine, vol. LXXV, no. 448, September 1887, p. 506) Here, Wyeth positions the fierce captain at the center of the composition, standing tall with hand on hip and pistol in holster as he guides his crew through the nocturnal seas. Brightly attired in a billowing white shirt, golden scarves and red cape, Blackbeard nonetheless appears as a chilling leader with his characteristic dark, flowing facial hair and stern expression in profile. Surrounded by his band of men, glints of moonlight reflecting on the gold and silver of their jewels and weapons underscore the men’s primary focuses on riches and violence. While the waves lap against their vessel and their patched-together sail swells in the wind, the tension palpably builds as the pirates all look forward, eagerly awaiting their next opportunity for attack.

Wyeth’s painting brings to life the imagery of both the character that Pyle helped invent in our imaginations, as well as the specific atmosphere that Fox created in his poem. For example, the starry sky and dusky glow in the image closely correspond with the setting described by the story’s opening lines: “Our sails are softly flapping in the whisper of the breeze;/And our proud and stately stern and the pointed bow before/Are rising and are falling to the breathing of the seas; And the pale moon floods the cockpit, and streaks the high-decked floor…Only the weary moon beholds the tracery of spars,/As she pries into the cabins with her swords of silver beams.” (“The Golden Galleon,” p. 166) Referencing the chiaroscuro of the Old Masters and anticipating film noir, Wyeth demonstrates his exceptional play with light, parlaying the prescribed narrative to selectively illuminate the crew and create mysterious shadows that both obscure and monumentalize his figures.

However, Wyeth’s painting certainly does not require any backstory in order to immediately understand his classic pirate subject. The work includes all of the hallmarks of traditional swashbuckling characters, from the polished weapons and tattered clothing to the gold hoop earrings and head scarves. In fact, the iconic nature of this painting led to its publication as an illustration for additional pirate stories beyond its original use. The image was relabeled “They had shipped the mast in the longboat” when published alongside W. Clark Russell’s The Wreck of the Grosvenor: An Account of the Mutiny of the Crew and the Loss of the Ship when Trying to Make the Bermudas, and was also illustrated in at least two editions of Oliver G. Swan’s compendium of brigand narratives, Deep Water Days (Anchors Aweigh!).

The present painting of Blackbeard infuses its romantic, literary subject with Wyeth’s quintessential artistic drama to firmly establish itself within both the annals of the great pirate legends as well as the ongoing imaginations of its viewers. As epitomized by the present work, “There are some sensations we experience in Wyeth illustrations that few other illustrators can offer. I doubt if we find their exact counterpart in the illustration of Wyeth’s principal teacher, Howard Pyle himself. It is its own signature, and an inspiring one. There is a heroic treatment of anatomy, for example, that makes a Wyeth masculine-type so gloriously strong and virile,—you look for a new discovery and technique. Then that romance of color, of wave, of cloud. Of those authentic, yet fascinating ships that toss or float over seas, fabulously stormy or credibly calm…When one is wearied a bit it is a pleasant relaxation to rediscover the sheer ecstasy and eternal decorative beauty of an illustration by N.C. Wyeth.” (A Book of Notable American Illustrators, 1927, as quoted in D. Allen, D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, pp. 138, 140)

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