Media File
Arthur Ignatius Keller
Date: American painter and illustrator, 1866–1924
Biography: Arthur Ignatius Keller was born in 1866 (or '67 -- both dates appear in the reference material) to a generation between Howard Pyle and his pupils. His father was an engraver and encouraged Keller to be an artist. He was born in New York City and studied art at the National Academy of Design there when he was 17. At the age of 20, he appeared in a few issues of St. Nicholas magazine - a monthly magazine for children published by The Century Co. It seems that illustration was not his first love and those few drawings marked the beginning and the end of an early career. He wanted to paint.

Europe was still the place for an artist to study and in 1890 he went to Germany and the Munich Academy of Art. The Romantics were in full force at the end of the 19th century and the Biedermeier style was the predominant German version of classical academia. For almost two years Keller studied with the artist and teacher, Ludwig von Loefftz. The academic style would remain with him his entire career, as would the very solid foundation of drawing skills that were stressed in almost every European art education.

When he returned to New York in 1891, he was prepared for a career as a painter, but it didn't last. His painting career was soon overtaken by his numerous illustration commissions for major magazines. His work appears in the original Life in 1894 and 1895, and in February of 1897. The same year his art appeared in a book, Let Us Follow Him by Sienkiewicz, who had just made a major impact with his Quo Vadis.

Appearing in the same issue of Harper's were Howard Pyle, A.B. Frost, Frederic Remington, George du Maurier, Peter Newell and others. The year before, Pyle had started teaching illustration classes at the Drexel Institute. Within five years the illustration field would be crowded with his students. During these five years, Keller made his own mark. He appeared regularly in every major magazine of the day: The Century, Harper's, Scribner’s, Colliers, McClure’s. And by the end of those five years, in 1903, he was president of the Society of Illustrators, which had just been formed in 1901.

Keller frequently brought his skills to stories of drawing room society with its fashionable and often ostentatious socialites. Thus, he is often classified as "another society artist" and, while he was very capable of documenting the same material as Christy and Fisher and dozens of other lesser talents, he was much more than that. While they filled the little gift books of the day with drawing room damsels and well-dressed swains, Keller was equally at home depicting the outdoors type. Most of the "society artists" focused on the figures and fashions with little effort being applied to surroundings and backgrounds. Keller could do figures with the best of them, but his characters were firmly situated in perfectly rendered rooms that were often as visually interesting as the people.

While he continued to paint and draw for magazines throughout the decade, he turned more and more to book illustration. His sumptuous style and his strong drawing skills made his work always in demand. He was equally at ease in color or wash, oils or pencil.

He illustrated for almost all of the popular authors of his day: George Barr McCutcheon, Robert W. Chambers, Owen Wister (he did the illustrations for The Virginian), William Allen White, Meredith Nicholson, Gilbert Parker, Emerson Hough, Irving Bacheller, Joseph Vance, Mary Johnston, and dozens more. His images literally sparkled with light and his attention to detail and faithfulness to the manuscripts was appreciated by both readers and writers.

Keller died in 1924 and the Society of Illustrators hosted a memorial exhibition in 1925. Many of his drawings were donated to the Library of Congress. He was elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1989.