Howard Pyle - 1853-1911

Pyle was a classic American Illustrator, and prime imagination for the depiction of pirates in American books and cinema. He was also a prolific author (particularly medieval stories of knights, and most famously as the author who presented the story of King Arthur and Robin Hood in a way that ultimately led to the American film versions of the British legend.)

Pyle also ran a school of art for a time in his native city of Wilmington, Delaware. He taught artists such as N. C. Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, and Stanley Arthur. Through the influence of his work printed in mass-market magazines and books, he influenced artists as diverse as Frank Frazetta and Vincent Van Gogh.

Painter Howard Pyle

The Coming Tide, 1909

The Coming Tide Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle oil painting from 1909. See the painting enlarged.

Howard PyleHoward Pyle (1853-1911) was an original genius of American Illustration. He thought out a particular plan and scope for advancing the idea of using masterful skill and execution in the realm of telling stories through images, and he set up a school to push those ideas forward into younger generations of artists. He used composition, drawing and painting ability, and a sense of motion and violence that was mostly unprecendented until his arrival as a freelance illustrator.

In the usually second-rate world of book and magazine illustration, this was a sudden burst of adrenalin which pushed up sales, but also improved the imagination of the American arts in general, and ultimately a great deal of how Americans (and the world) view subjects such as pirates, Robin Hood, King Arthur and the American Indian can visually be traced back to Pyle, as they were his own pet subjects. He created the romanticized images that were then lifted and put into Hollywood movies. Johnny Depp in pirate costume is a direct descendent of Howard Pyle's cross-splicing of the visual DNA of historical pirates, gypsies, and his own sense of the flamboyant. The world of pop-culture visuals, whether its comic books, movies or poster art, has been influenced by Pyle's imagination. Pyle's admirers among artists has stretched from Vincent Van Gogh to Frazetta, Jeff Jones and beyond.

View the painting enlarged.

Detail of the oil painting Coming Tide by Howard Pyle

See the enlarged detail image from the painting "The Coming Tide" by Howard Pyle.

Extorting Tribute from the Crown, 1905

Howard Pyle Painting

Howard Pyle Oil Painting - Tribute from the Crown

Howard Pyle Detail Painting in Ol

Howard Pyle Oil Painting Detail 2

Pyle's pirate paintings shaped what the American ideal was of the 16th-18th century seafaring bandits. Although Pyle emphasized historical research in his work as an illustrator, he took liberties when the documentation that was available to him was spotty or non-existent. It has been proposed that he combined elements of romanticized portrayals of Gypsies with his work on depicting pirates, and that this hybrid is what became his visual language for the tales he illustrated and wrote about.

Pyle's influence on pirate imagery can be traced backwards from the modern Johnny Depp "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies from Disney on through the 1950s pirate movie boom, then films of the 40s, 30s, and then into the silent era where the imagery was first lifted from Pyle's mass-distributed illustration work for books and magazines (for example, see the silent film the Sea Hawk from 1924.)

The Enchanter Merlin

The Enchanter Merlin - by Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle produced many ink illustrations for his book of The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, Charles Scribner Sons, published 1903. Many are surprisingly small images, such as this one showing the wizard Merlin - the actual photo of the framed drawing shown above is almost the actual size Pyle completed the drawing at. See the artwork enlarged considerably.

detail - Merlin ink and pen art by Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle illo, The Parapet, 1899

The Parapet by Howard Pyle

View Pyle painting enlarged

Pyle was particularly interested in colonial American history, and his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware placed him near the historical areas where many events took place during the American revolution.

The Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington Delaware

The bulk of Howard Pyle's artwork is at this museum in the city where he was born and primarily worked during his career as the preeminent American magazine and book illustrator.

Delaware Art Museum Wilmington DE

Howard Pyle Wilmington Delaware

The Mermaid, 1910

Mermaid by Howard Pyle

View an enlarged version of the Mermaid from an older source image

Attack on a Galleon, 1905

Howard Pyle Pirate Ship

Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle 1853-1911

1902 - Howard Pyle - The Enchanter Merlin - pen and ink

1902 - Howard Pyle - The Enchanter Merlin - pen and ink (detail)

1909 - Howard Pyle - The Coming Tide - oil painting

1909 - Howard Pyle - The Coming Tide - oil painting (detail)

1899 - Howard Pyle "They Scrambled up the Parapet" painting

1910 - Howard Pyle - The Mermaid

N. C. Wyeth

N. C. Wyeth

N C Wyeth's painting "The Giant"

N C Wyeth's painting "The Guardians"

N C Wyeth painting The Magician and the Maid of Beauty

Howard Pyle American Master Book

Classic Illustrators


Alexandre Benois

Franklin Booth

Robert Lawson

Howard Pyle

N. C. Wyeth

Original Page Feb 2013 | Updated Feb 2014