Photograph of Howard Pyle by Paul Strayer, Delaware Museum of Art
Howard Pyle
Date: American illustrator, 1853–1911
Biography: Howard Pyle – artist, writer, and teacher - was among America’s most famous illustrators and storytellers. He was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1853 and after three years of art study in Philadelphia he began his career in New York City in 1876. After further studies at the Art Students League, he returned to Wilmington, where in 1879 he established his studio. For the next thirty years, as Pyle worked in a rapidly expanding publishing industry, as he created more than three thousand illustrations for books and a cross-section of major magazines, including St. Nicholas, the Harper’s periodicals, Century Magazine, The Ladies’ Home Journal, and McClure’s. His lively stories and images of dashing pirates, valiant knights, and historical heroes reached millions of people. His book and magazine illustrations – both in color or black and white, for young people and adults - animated the written words of fiction, history, fantasy and romance. His mastery of eloquent gestures and expressions, evocative lighting, picturesque settings and theatrical composition combined to create an expressive and emotional intensity.

Pyle was the first to professionalize the teaching of illustration as an art unto itself in the United States. In 1894, he inaugurated a class in illustration at Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry (now Drexel University) in Philadelphia; two years later, his courses were renamed Drexel’s School of Illustration. In 1898, he established a summer school at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, allowing him to give intensive instruction to chosen students. In 1900, he resigned from Drexel and founded his own school in Wilmington, which he operated until 1905, thereafter giving private critiques to select students. Pyle’s rigorous curriculum stressed naturalistic accuracy and emotional resonance. “Project your mind into your subject until you actually live it. Make your pictures live." These words – spoken by Pyle to his students – convey his passion for the art of illustration, which he regarded as the best manifestation of American art.

Some of his students went on to create memorable works through the mid-twentieth century. His protégés became known as the “Brandywine School of Illustrators” because of the school’s location in the Brandywine Valley of Delaware and Pennsylvania. Pyle’s best-known students included N. C. Wyeth and Jessie Willcox Smith.

Today, illustrators, filmmakers, and animators still acknowledge Pyle’s lasting imprint on the nation’s visual culture. After his death in 1911, the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, now the Delaware Art Museum, was founded to preserve and exhibit his works of art.