Howard Pyle was born on March 5, 1853 in Wilmington, Delaware. He showed a keen interest in art and literature from a very young age. At school Pyle showed indifference to his studies. His mother, who was a painter, encouraged him to pursue art.
Rather than going to college, Pyle moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and spent three years studying under Francis Van der Wielen at the Art Students’ League. After a visit to the island of Chincoteague off Virginia he submitted an illustrated article to Scribner’s Monthly. Roswell Smith, one of the owners of the magazine, suggested Pyle move to New York to pursue a career in illustration.
In 1876, Pyle heeding Smith’s advice, moved to New York. However, he struggled to get work at first due to his lack of professional experience. He also struggled to suitably translate his ideas for publication. His luck changed when he sold a double-page illustrated article to Harper’s Weekly. It appeared in the issue of March 9, 1878. He was paid the tidy sum of $75, which was five times what he had expected. From there he began illustrating and writing for many popular periodicals including Collier’s, Harper’s Monthly, Cosmopolitan, Scribner’s, and St. Nicholas magazines. He soon became widely known for his editorial illustrations.
By the time Pyle returned home to Wilmington in 1880, he was an established artist. A year later he married a singer, Anne Poole, on April 12, 1881. Around that time he began to work on a book, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. It was published in 1883. Pyle careful crafted almost every aspect of the book, from the writing, illustration, and design, down to the type of lettering used. This book, rightfully so, garnered international attention and praise from critics such as William Morris. Pyle put that same level of commitment and care into many more books, notably, Otto of the Silver Hand (1888), Men of Iron (1891), The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (1903), Howard Pyle’s Book Of Pirates (Compiled in 1921).
Between 1894 to 1900 Pyle joined the faculty of Drexel Institute of Art (now called Drexel University) to teach illustration. A natural tutor, Pyle discovered a drive to better teach students about illustration outside of the confines of formal art education. In 1900, Pyle left Drexel to established his own art school. It was attached to his personal art studio and became known as the Brandywine School. Having made a good living through his professional illustration Pyle never accepted money for his teaching. Many of his students were female, making up to fifty percent of his classes. Which was very uncommon in those days. Pyle excelled in many mediums, pen and ink, watercolors, oils, pencil and charcoal. He taught his students technique as well as encouraging them train both spiritually and artistically. To experience many environments so that they could authentically represent them in their work.
In 1910 Pyle along with his family went to Italy, with an intention to study the old masters. However, after just one year, he suffered a kidney infection and died in Florence at the age of 58. The Delaware Museum of Art was founded two years later in his honor. It houses over 100 paintings, drawings, and prints purchased from Pyle’s widow, Anne.
In a career lasting a little over thirty years, Pyle produced nearly 3,500 illustrations across 200 magazine articles and 19 books. His legacy is felt today with many contemporary illustrators still citing Pyle’s work as an important influence. His contribution in illustration, literature and education is still studied and praised today, truly earning Howard Pyle the title of the “Father of American Illustration.”