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Howard Pyle: The Father of American Illustration

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Innovating new techniques and design in illustration and creating an American school of illustration and art, as well as reinventing children’s books, the American illustrator, painter, and author, Howard Pyle, is celebrated as America’s most popular illustrator and storyteller, who produced dozens of classic illustrated volumes, including fables, fairy tales and adventure stories at the end of the 19th century.

Revered as the “Father of American Illustration”, Pyle was born on March 5, 1853, in Wilmington, Delaware. As a child, he read many adventure stories and tall tales, such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. At sixteen, he began three years of daily commutes to Philadelphia in order to study under the Belgian artist Van der Weilen. These classes would be the only systematic training in the art that Pyle would receive and provided a solid foundation in the technique of drawing.

After three years of study, Pyle set up a studio in Wilmington and helped his father in his leather business while beginning his fledgling career as an illustrator. His earliest work was published in Scribner’s Monthly in 1876. The same year he moved to New York, where he was associated to some extent with the Art Students’ League of New York City during 1876-77. His early illustrations, short stories, and poems appeared in the leading New York periodicals in 1876-79. He was a well-known artist and writer for Harpers Weekly.

After returning to Wilmington in 1880, Pyle began working on some of his most memorable books. One such project, “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” (1883), proved especially popular. Nearly every inch of the book was created by Pyle; the stories, the illustrations and the type of lettering used. He went on to illustrate dozens of other works, his own stories as well as those by other writers.

Pyle was also a gifted instructor. After teaching illustration at Drexel Institute of Art from 1894 to 1900, he started his own art and illustration school, which became known as the Brandywine school. Some of his most notable students included N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish. Later Pyle undertook mural paintings, executing, among others, “The Battle of Nashville” (1906) for the capitol at St. Paul, Minn.

In 1910, Pyle relocated his family to Florence, Italy, where he hoped to study and pursue the paintings of murals- drawing on the expertise of the Old World. It was his second trip abroad. In November of 1911, he suddenly became ill and died of a kidney infection on November 9, 1911, at the age of 58. His ashes were interred there.


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