Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle was one of the most influential illustrators of all times. Being excellent tutor too and teaching great artists like Jessie Wilcox Smith, Philip R. Goodwin, N. C. Wyeth and others he is often called father of American illustration. I decided to use three sets of his illustrations to present his work.

After initial struggling as professional illustrator in New York he made a break with first pages at Harper’s Weekly. When he started writing and illustrating his own books, he became really successful. Though known primarily as illustrator he is still priced as very good writer with convincing style, great sense of theme and character development.

His first book was The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood published in 1883. It is almost entirely made by him, from typography of the letters to all writings and illustrations.

Here are examples:

robin-hood-pyle marry-friar-carries-robin on-the-bridge blue-boar-inn sheriff-of-nottingham robin-sell-meat little-john-in-action little-john-and-cook little-john-in-another-fight robin-and-stranger-in-scarlet at-miller fountain merry-friar-sings robin-hood-and-sir-stephen robin-and-knight sir-richard little-john-disguised robin-and-beggar queen-eleanor robin-escapes robin-and-guy bargain

As we can see, illustrations were combined with text and the very same situation was already popular in Europe with so called Baby Books, illustrated by Walter Crane and printed by Edmund Evans. Though Marry adventures of Robin Hood aimed at older audience, work for children wasn’t foreign to Pyle either. In this category can be placed his work with his sister Katharine Pyle on several books  for kids too.

Historical novels, or as we would probably label Pyle’s books today, adventure stories for young adults, were his top creations and series about pirates is still extremely influential. Howard Pyle didn’t have a lot of information about real pirate’s clothes, so he ‘invented’ his own style, based on gypsy’s clothes which according to experts certainly wasn’t practical for see voyages.

Even today pirates in the movies are still dressed very similar to the pirates in his books. Let’s peek at next series of illustrations, this time from The Book of Pirates:

captains-daughter book-of-pirates-howard-pyle-cover pirate-ship-pyle treasure-chest pirate-and-bottle pirates-on-boat-at-night fight-among-pirates no-mercy treasure-island-howard-pyle on-guard fight-howard-pyle captain duel more-violence

Pretty realistic, right? He was so convincing his style is still visible in contemporary American illustration.

Talking about influence, I must conclude with simple yet extremely effective style of Japanese wood blocks which made great impact on already mentioned Walter Crane too. Next series of Pyle’s illustrations comes from legendary Lady of Shalott, which inspired so many artists:

howard-pyle-lady-of-shalott the-lady-of-shalott-howard-pyle people-passing in-the-space-of-flowers god-speed reapers weaver sir-lancelot shalott knight lady the-lady-of-shalott-pyle king-and-lady dead-lady-of-shalott

If we closely look at Howard Pyle’s illustrations of Lady of Shalott, we can find more similarities with Walter Crane. It is not only incorporation of the text in the picture, it is also whole design. We can for instance find pages designed just like coat of arms of knights and other nobility. And last but not least we have decorative borders helping to ‘seemlessly blend an image with background’ what is another proof of Pyle’s sense of thinking about books as whole experience where every detail counts.

Pyle made whole series of so called Arthurian novels, based on the legend of King Arthur, Camelot and knights of round table. Lady of Shalott is of course popular poem written by Lord Tennyson but we can easily recognize elements of popular fairy tales like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

Talking about The Sleeping Beauty we can also include illustrations from The Story of Siegfried (published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1910):


The forging of Balmung


The death of Fafnir


The awakening of Brunhild


The trial of strength


The quarrel of the queens


The death of Siegfried

Of course this is the story where the things really start rolling after the Sleeping Beauty (Brynhild) is awakened by Siegfried 8just like in Perrault’s or Basile’s versions). Wagner made whole series of operas on the theme and we can enjoy it with illustrations by Arthur Rackham right here.

I hope I presented him well enough. All images are in public domain based on American and EU law. Text about Howard Pyle and his work is copyrighted by me.

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