ARTHUR IGNATIUS KELLER (1866-1924)
22 1/4" x 16 3/8", Charcoal 20158
Arthur Ignatius Keller (1866-1924)
A. I. Keller was born July 4th, 1866. He was the son of Matilda and Adam Keller, a designer and engraver who recognized and encouraged his son’s artistic talent. Arthur’s father was his first teacher. By the age of seventeen, he began his formal training at the National Academy of Design in New York, studying under Professor Lemuel Wilmarth. In 1890 Keller traveled to Munich, Germany to study under Ludwig von Loeffiz. After two years of study he returned to the United States. His father had tried to persuade Arthur to remain in Europe to study in France, as the influence of impressionism was gaining in popularity. But Arthur did not wish to experiment with a genre that was so different from the classical styles that he was developing. In a letter dated 1891 Arthur replied to his father, “This I positively know, namely, I hardly would ever think of entering the Art School in Paris. In fact, I’m already thinking of leaving for good to develop that grain of art which I have sowed here.”
Before leaving Munich, Keller received the Hallgarten Prize, and his painting “At Mass” was purchased by the Academy. Unfortunately, this painting was destroyed during an Allied bombing raid in WW II.
In 1892, when Keller returned to New York, the publication of books and magazines was flourishing which led to the demand for illustrations. Though Keller was trained as a painter of oils and watercolors, his transition into illustration likely was born out of financial necessity and began principally with the New York Herald in the mid 1890s.
Early illustrations appeared in Harper’s, Collier’s and The Ladies’ Home Journal and at least thirty other magazines. In books he illustrated the works of Rupert Hughes, J.P. Marquand and George Barr McCutcheon, to mention only a few. By the early 1900’s his works were already earning recognition. The series of awards he had won at the turn of the century include the prize for watercolors at the Philadelphia Art Club; silver medal, Paris Exposition; bronze and silver medals, St. Louis Exposition; and gold medal, Panama Exposition.
Among his outstanding book commissions were A Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Virginian by Owen Wister, and many books of the writer Brett Harte. By 1912 Keller had illustrated roughly 150 books, and more than 600 issues of leading magazines had carried his illustrations.
The most controversial work of Keller’s was a design that inspired the uniform for members of the Ku Klux Klan. This came from his involvement with Thomas Dixon who wrote The Clansman.
The Kellers had a year round residence in New York but spent a lot of time in Cragsmoor which was a growing art colony at the time.
Keller always drew from live models. It would be common to see members of his family and household staff in his illustrations. He would hire people whom Mrs. Keller would call “strays” to model and live with the family, often hiring them to do other jobs such as chauffeuring, gardening, and home repairs.
On December 2, 1925, in New York City Keller died at the age of 58, of pneumonia.
Biography adapted from the American Art Archives biography.