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Volume 7964


An Important Pulp Painting in the Burroughs Collection
by Danton Burroughs
A Tarzan painting I grew up with isn't as dramatic as the St. Johns but is by an artist even more famous -- N. C. Wyeth, who would go on to become acknowledged as one of the great American illustrators of the twentieth century. His only Tarzan paintings were based on a single book, The Return of Tarzan, but that's certainly a significant title. The painting we have is the one that served as the cover illustration on the original New Story pulp magazine serialization of the tale, as well as on the first-edition hardcover book. Wyeth was a different sort of painter than St. John, although both made an interesting use of light in their color paintings. In this one, which is an outdoor scene, it's clear that the sun is at Tarzan's back, as the front of him is in shadow. You can look closely at the painting and see the brushstrokes and how the leaves were delicately formed, and the way the foliage in the back isn't as precisely rendered in order to create the felling of distance. So the first thing your eye is drawn to is the image of Tarzan in a lion-skin loincloth high in the branches of a tree. The sky at the top is rather blank because that was where the pulp magazine's name was (and later where the book title went). The more you look at this deceptively simple canvas the more you see the interesting little things it has. The tree, for instance: the branch that stretches from left to right across the image has a skeletal quality; the branches are denuded of all semblance of life, and it gives them the look of bony fingers.

This Wyeth painting has an interesting , and partly apocryphal, history. In 1913 my grandfather attempted to buy one of the two Wyeth paintings done for New Story. The one he wanted would only be sold by Wyeth for a hundred dollars, a princely sum for anything in 1913. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote back to A. L. Sessions, the editor of New Story, and in a letter dated June 14, 1913, Burroughs stated, "I want to thank you for the trouble you have taken relative to the cover design by Mr. Wyeth. I am afraid, however, that Mr. Wyeth wants it worse than I do, so I shall be generous and let him keep it." Many years later, in 1965, Hulbert Burroughs learned of a Wyeth Tarzan painting that still existed; he purchased it for fifteen hundred dollars, believing that it was the same one his father had been unable to afford in 1913. In fact, the one my grandfather sought in 1913 has apparently been lost to the ages. Oddly enough it wasn't even as interesting a painting as the one we have; the picture Edgar Rice Burroughs sought to purchase shows two men in ordinary desert garb riding horses (presumably one of those men is Tarzan). The painting Hulbert bought is actually more significant, because it shows Tarzan in his traditional setting.

N. C. WYETH (1892-1945)
George T. McWhorter

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Wyeth Cover Art for ERB's OUTLAW OF TORN Serialized in New Story 1914

George McWhorter   ~   Danton Burroughs


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