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  • "Caught Smoking", oil painting | Arthur Ignatius Keller (American, 1866-1924)
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"Caught Smoking", oil painting | Arthur Ignatius Keller (American, 1866-1924)

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Executed in oil on canvas, signed "Arthur Keller, 1889, München" lower right
Item # 903BKJ24L 

An exquisitely detailed work by American illustrator and painter Arthur Keller, the scene captures a romantic interior scene with a young boy feeling sick with his face a bit pale and gray as his mother cares for him by fluffing his pillow.  But he is about to be found out: coming through the door of the adjoining room, his grandmother has found his smoking pipe and carries a large stick in hand.  Having given his father's pipe a try for the first time, it is likely the source of his momentary sickness. 

The extraordinary amount of attention to detail is notable in the scene.  The stage is perfectly set with a technically exquisite interior, fine shadow work, intricate brush work that captures the simplicity of the orderly and warm 19th century home.  The window opens to river views with a waterfall before the distant spires of the town.  Keller's ability to capture personality in each of his characters is perhaps most admirable though, as each figure has a story that is well developed in their features.  The work is executed in oil on canvas and is signed lower right Arthur Keller, 1889, München, a work he completed while studying under Ludwig von Loefftz.

Born in New York in 1866 to Adam and Amanda Spohr Keller, Arthur Keller studied under Edgar Ward and Lemuel E. Wilmarth at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1883 and under Ludwig von Loefftz in Munich, Germany from 1886 through 1890.  In the 1890's he returned to New York where he practiced as a painter in gouache, oil and watercolors. 

This proved somewhat unprofitable for Keller and around the turn of the century he turned to illustrations as a source of income.  First working for newspapers and magazines, as his reputation grew he began to focus on book illustrations, completing around 150 by 1912.  His more notable book illustrations include Longfellow's Hanging of the Crane, F. Hopkinson Smith's Caleb West, Master Driver, Wister's The Virginian, Her Letter by B. Harte, Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. 

In 1900 and 1904 he received medals at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, and at the World's Fair, St. Louis as well as one for drawing at Buffalo.  In 1903 he was chairman of the Society of Illustrators.  He was also a member of the American Watercolor Society and the New  York Watercolor Club.  His painting of "The Mass" is represented in the collection of the Munich Academy.  He died in Riverdale, New York in 1924.

Literature, Listings & Further Reading:

  • "Arthur Ignatius Keller, 1866-1924", exhibition catalogue, Brandywine River Museum, 1988
  • "E. Benezit Dictionary of Artists", vol. VII, 2006, p. 1149
  • "Dictionnaire des Illustrateurs 1800-1914", Ides et Calendes, Neuchatel, 1989
  • "Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers", Glen Opitz, 1983, p. 505

Measurements: 30 3/8" W x 25 9/16" H x 1 3/4" D [frame]; 23 1/16" W x 18 3/16" H [canvas]

Condition Report:
Contemporary frame with chipping and light wear. Canvas unlined and with a light ripple. Light grime discoloration to varnish layer. Under UV showing touch ups to extreme edges from frame rubbing, lower left quarter obscured from varnish, tiny spot touch ups to figures. Minor craquelure throughout.