|Second and foremost, Howard
Pyle was a teacher. That said, firstly he was an artist, an artist who
changed the way the world looked at illustration and the way illustration
looked to the world. Before Pyle, and indeed for many years after his career
started, illustrations for adventure stories looked like the image at right.
Their most noticeable
trait was their "staginess" - the flat "stage" of the ground, the posed
"actors" and the scenery "props" to support them. It could easily have been
photographed from front row center. The stage manger might call "break" and
the actors would walk off and prepare for the next scene. And this is the
good stuff - A.B. Frost from 1890.
Then Pyle showed up. Born in 1853, he seemed determined from a precociously early age to become an author and more importantly an artist. By 1876, he moved to New York at the encouragement of Scribner's Magazine, for whom the drawing at left was made, also in 1890. Compare it with the Frost. First off, we know this isn't a stage - we can't even see the ground. The scenery seems very un-prop-like, and it's quite obvious that the only "break" that's going to occur at the end of this scene is someone's leg or head. The tension in the Frost scene is in our minds, that of Pyle's is before our eyes. His every drawing wasn't this dynamic, nor was every assignment rife with such potential scenes, but Pyle saw the action in art, and put it on the page for all to share. He also shared his views and skills with an amazing student body at his 1896 classes at the Drexel Institute of Arts and Sciences in Philadelphia, his summer classes at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and at his own school in Wilmington, Delaware - started in 1903. In the first Drexel class were Violet Oakley, Maxfield Parrish, and Jessie Willcox Smith. The first Wilmington class included: Stanley Arthurs, W.J. Aylward, Ida Daugherty, Harvey Dunn, George Harding, Thornton Oakley, Frank Schoonover and N.C. Wyeth. (Dunn was to pass the Pyle legacy on to another generation with his own teaching.) Pyle's students were to revolutionize the illustration world. Today they are collectively known as The Brandywine School. By 1910, with the obvious exceptions of drawing room dramas, few artists capable of it thought twice of portraying an action scene from an unusual perspective or placing the action in the setting of their choosing.
Pyle wrote many of the books and stories he illustrated, and though he will always be remembered first for his art, many of his books are considered classics and still in print or available in recent reprints. These include: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Pepper & Salt, The Wonder Clock, Otto of the Silver Hand, Men of Iron, The Garden Behind the Moon, and the four volume Arthurian legends comprised of The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, The Story of the Champions of the Round Table, The Story of Lancelot and His Companions, and The Story of the Grail and the Passing of Arthur. Most of these were illustrated with his distinctive pen & ink style that hearkened back to the wood-engraved images that were common during his childhood and early years of his career. He wasn't restricted to this more-formal style, but seemed to gravitate towards it in pen illustrations for his own work. A nice sample of a looser style can be seen in an illustration from Howard Pyle's Book of the American Spirit in our Catalog 19.
And then there was color. Rich earth tones played against bright primaries in strong and complex compositions, often framed in deep, impenetrable shadow. Most of these were prized additions to issues of Century, Everybody's and Harpers monthly magazines from 1900 to 1911 when the color printing processes were advanced enough to do justice to his palette. The four panels above are from the 1902 Christmas issue of Century, "The Travels of the Soul". Told in four paintings and a decorated text by Howard Pyle." Pyle's work was highly prized by the publishers of the day and Pyle was instrumental in exposing the work of his students to those same publishers, helping most of them begin long and productive careers.
The image at left is from the 1905 edition of The Island of Enchantment, one of dozens of books he illustrated during his heyday. At the right is the cover of one of the final books to appear featuring his work, Saint Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain. Published in 1919, eight years after his death, the images were done in 1904 for Harpers.
Pyle died from a kidney infection while he was in Italy in 1911. His legacy is ongoing. The Henry Pitz biography has a list of 110 students that attended his various classes. An important fact is that fully 40 of these were women, including Eleanor Plaisted Abbott, Alice Barber Stevens, Anna Whelan Betts, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Charlotte Harding (Brown), Gertrude A. Kay, Katherine Pyle, Sarah Stilwell Weber, and more. The influence of these women, the impact of Wyeth and Dunn, and the attitudes towards illustration that they all developed from Pyle's teachings keep his works and memory alive today in every art class that teaches illustration. And every bookstore that sells illustrated books from the Golden Age.
Information supplied by: http://www.bpib.com/pyle.htm