It’s been a while since I’ve taken time to look at any art, and so I thought I’d rectify that by searching illustrators from the 19th century, and earlier. Why? Before photography, the only way to visually represent something was via some form of illustration. I’ve often thought that this was an interesting idea, especially when you consider that newspapers also carried illustrations.
While digging through a variety of names I stumbled on an American artist named Howard Pyle. You can find a biography of him at the site, “Illustration History“. What initially drew my attention to him was an oil painting he made titled Walking the Plank. (Below)
Many small TTRPGs and supplements heavily use public-domain art, and this is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect to see in an indie product. Pyle’s work is in the public domain, and so re-using his creations would be fair game if someone were so inclined. Once I started sifting through more of his work, I was impressed at the quality, as well as how perfect the subject matter is for gaming. I admit fully to not having ever heard of him before, but his paintings could easily be the cover of a fantasy RPG. It’s entirely probable that people have already made use of his works, and I’m just late to the party. His stuff is just too perfect a fit for TTRPGs. Here’s another one, At the Gate of the Castle. (Below. Also, you can view a larger image here.)
I’ve never seen this particular painting used before, but if it doesn’t make its way into some D&D retro-clone I’ll be stunned. While Pyle probably didn’t ever conceive of TTRPGs, some of his work speaks directly to gaming. There’s even a set of illustrations for a version of Robin Hood that looks very much like pictures used in D&D supplements. You can decide for yourself. Want more evidence? Pyle even wrote and illustrated his own medieval adventure novel. Below is an image titled, Otto of the Silver Hand, from Pyle’s tale of the same name, Otto of the Silver Hand.
I’d like to think that Pyle might very well have been a gamer if he were alive today. Altogether, he created a wonderful collection of work that is steeped in fantasy and fairy tales. Perhaps this is why Pyle himself is rarely ever heard of. Subject matter depicting the fantastic is often pushed into the margins by “serious” critics. No matter how significant, or excellent an artist’s work might have been, once it veers over into the fantastic it often isn’t taken seriously. Pyle could have suffered the same fate, despite the fact that his own work is definitely high quality.
If you’d like to explore more of his work, there is a collection of images curated via WikiArt.