design-left Arthur I. Keller - signature design-right
    There is a color Keller
piece in issues 4 & 5 of

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.

Arthur I. Keller - Harpers 1897Europe 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 still 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.

Arthur I. Keller - Let Us Follow HimWhen he returned to New York in 1891, he was prepared for a career as a painter, but it didn't last. His work appears in the original Life in 1894 and 1895, and in February of 1897, the image at right appeared in Harpers Monthly, signaling a complete conversion to illustration. The same year his art (the image at left) 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 Harpers 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, Harpers, Scribners, Colliers, McClures and sporadically in many others. 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.

Arthur I. Keller - Her LetterKeller 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 as in the drawing at left from Bret Harte's Her Letter. 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. See the image from George Barr McCutcheon's A Fool and His Money (1913) below for a prime example.

Arthur I. Keller - A Fool and His Money

Arthur I. Keller - Society of Illustrators 1911 AnnualWhile 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. The range of his images always amazes me. At right is the plate he contributed to the 1911 Society of Illustrators Annual. It's indicative of the extensive pencil studies he did for every illustration. Below are a few images from books from the 1905-1915 era.

Arthur I. Keller - Bob Hampton of Placer Arthur I. Keller - The Calling of Dan Matthews Arthur I. Keller - A Christmas Carol
Bob Hampton of Placer
by Randall Parrish (1906)
The Calling of Dan Matthews
by Harold Bell Wright (1909) 
A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens (1914)

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.

Arthur I. Keller - Figure Studies From LifeMy favorite Keller images are not book or magazine illustrations but the studies that he made for them. In 1920 Keller assembled hundreds of his preliminary drawings and sketches and photographed them. From the glass negatives that resulted, he prepared two portfolios of photographic prints. These were published as A Series of American Monographs * Arthur I. Keller - Figure Studies From Life. The prints were about 11"x13" and volume one had forty plates similar to the one at left. I've loaded a full-size version of this plate so you can see his work and technique up close. These plates merit close and repeated examination. For another example, see ImageS #5.

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 and might still be there today. He was elected to the SI Hall of Fame in 1989.


To learn more about Arthur I. Keller, see:

200 Years of American Illustration Henry C. Pitz, Random House 1977
The Illustrator in America 1880-1980 Walt and Roger Reed, 1984 Madison Square Press
American Illustration 1890-1925 Judy Larson, 1986 Glenbow Museum
Famous American Illustrators Arpi Ermoyan, 1997 Society of Illustrators
The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Knowledge Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 1998
The Vadeboncoeur Collection of ImageS 4, 5 Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 2002, 2003 JVJ Publishing

Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page written, designed & © 1998 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. Updated 2011.

Learn about other ILLUSTRATORS.

Go to top