Zibaldone #5: A Wolf in Salem

Howard Pyle is one of my favorite artists. There’s a palpable energy to his work which resonates through the eyeballs and starts the gears to turning in my head–there’s a story in every brush stroke. I first encountered his work as a kid, which probably helps explain the ever-present frisson it generates in me, but I tend to revisit it when I need a bit of inspiration.

Anyway, Pyle’s ‘A Wolf Had Not Been Seen at Salem for Thirty Years’ (1909) is one of my favorites. I’ve always found this one fascinating. There’s a pathos to it, and an element of the macabre. It’s by turns sinister and engaging. Pyle’s depiction of the wolf is simultaneously monstrous and pitiable, and you can spin a web of implications from the title of the piece alone. There’s a story there, just clamouring to get out.

Is the wolf a werewolf? Obvious, but always fun. Is the painting cursed somehow? Or something more subtle…what inspired Pyle to paint this scene? Where did he hear of it? Is it somehow related to Cotton Mather‘s Magnalia Christi Americana? Is the wolf real, a demon, a symbol…or something else entirely?

Like I said, the stories clamour.

I intend to write something about this piece at some point. Probably not soon. It needs to percolate for a bit. I don’t know yet whether it’ll be about the painting itself, the subject matter or something else entirely. Inspiration is a funny beast that way.