Howard Pyle

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Howard Pyle Biography

Howard Pyle is a name you might not know, but you are most certainly familiar with his work. Pyle wrote The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood as well as a four-volume King Arthur set that is still in print and popular today. He began his career as an artist but eventually wrote and illustrated his own books for children and young adults. Due to the violent nature of some of the Robin Hood tales, Pyle changed them to be more suitable for children. In fact, not a single one of his stories was entirely original. He instead took existing tales and wove them together to create his own vision. It’s a technique that worked well: to this day, Pyle and the legend of Robin Hood are indelibly linked.

Facts and Trivia

  • Pyle was well-respected during his time. Vincent van Gogh was a great admirer and once wrote, “His work struck me dumb with admiration.”
  • Pyle was brought up as a Quaker and was encouraged to go to college until his family realized that art was his true calling.
  • He taught illustration at Drexel University and eventually started his own art school. He taught many students who later went on to become famous artists, including N. C. Wyeth and Jessie Wilcox Smith.
  • Pyle used a pen-and-ink style for most of his illustrations because it was reminiscent of the wood-engraved drawings he saw so often in his childhood.
  • Pyle spent the last year of his life living in Florence, Italy, and studying mural painting.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 606

Howard Pyle was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on March 5, 1853. Showing considerable artistic ability at a young age, he was allowed to leave school at sixteen to pursue private art studies in Philadelphia. He placed his first illustrated article in Scribner's magazine in 1876, and, encouraged by this early success, moved to New York City to study and work. There Pyle vacillated between careers in art and in literature, eventually solving his dilemma by becoming both an illustrator and a writer. After establishing himself with Harpers, Scribner's and other major publishing houses during his three years in New York, Pyle returned to Wilmington in 1879, where he lived—a devoted family man and industrious artist, teacher, and writer—until the year before his death in 1911. These thirty years saw a remarkable outpouring of illustrations, articles, and books. His works in prose and pictures concerning colonial America helped a nation torn apart by civil war to rediscover its common roots, and his illustrations for the historical works of Woodrow Wilson and Henry Cabot Lodge provided a vision of early American costume, character, and events. Pyle's keen interest in history also manifested itself in works on piracy and on medieval life. In addition, he wrote several adult romances, thrillers, and tales of adventure, as well as a realistic novel, Rejected of Men (1903).

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Pyle's reputation as a writer now rests, however, on his illustrated works for young people, works that occupy a permanent position in the canon of juvenile literature. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and Pyle's four-volume Arthuriad— The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, The Story of the Champions of the Round Table, The Story of Sir Launcelot and His Companions, and The Story of the Grail and the Passing of Arthur—offer the best indication of his considerable skill as storyteller and illustrator. He refashions these traditional tales, imbuing them with exuberance, an infectious good humor, and a generosity of spirit, revitalizing their ancient heroes for the delight of later generations of young readers. Pyle was also instrumental in the nineteenthcentury revival of the folktale, producing three volumes of lively stories. Pepper & Salt, The Wonder Clock, and Twilight Land are characterized by a tendency toward moral instruction tempered by playful whimsy and a witty, colloquial narration. Pyle, along with his contemporary Mark Twain, wrote some of the best historical novels for young people, including Otto of the Silver Hand and Men of Iron, both set in medieval Europe, and The Story of Jack Ballister's Fortunes, set in colonial America. These classic works, many of which have never been out of print, constitute an enduring legacy.

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Wishing to share his expertise as an artist and illustrator with the next generation, Pyle began his teaching career in 1894 at Drexel Institute's School of Illustration, commuting several days a week to Philadelphia. After resigning from Drexel in 1900, he opened his own school in his studios in Wilmington. His aim as a teacher was to foster a truly American art no longer slavishly dependent upon European models. During his sixteen-year teaching career, Pyle instructed a whole generation of American illustrators, among them such luminaries as Maxfield Parrish, Jessie Wilcox Smith, and N. C. Wyeth. At the end of his career, he turned his attention to mural painting and left Wilmington in 1910 to study in Italy, where he died on November 9, 1911, in Florence.

An important art educator, Howard Pyle is called the "Father of American Illustration" for his role in elevating American illustration to a position of world eminence. In addition, he is recognized as a classic American writer for young people, a significant figure in the "Golden Age of Children's Literature."

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