Find, Learn, Price Art
Enjoy the comprehensive art database we've compiled since 1987
Membership Details
Images, sales charts, bios, signatures, 30 artist Alerts and more ...
Art auction records:  Millions of references for pricing research
Or, register for Free Alerts
To track 10 artists.

Already a member?  Sign in here

Felix Darley

 (1822 - 1888)
Felix Octavius Carr Darley was active/lived in Delaware, New York.  Felix Darley is known for illustration, genre, rural views.

Felix Darley

Biography from the Archives of askART

Born in 1821 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Felix Darley "can well be considered America's first important illustrator." (Reed 17) He was self taught and highly prolific during a long career that included being a newspaper staff artist, illustrator for book publishers and for famous authors including Washington Irving, Henry Longfellow and James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens.

With illustrations for these writers, Felix Darley popularized such American icons as the Pilgrim, the Pioneer, the Minuteman and the Yankee Peddler. Western art collectors covet his illustrations depicting the settling of the West, the early life on the plains, the Indians, the white settlers, trappers, and hunters. He was especially adept at portraying the dramatic action of the Indian buffalo hunt.

Darley's fame was so great while he was alive that many books were advertised as "illustrated by Darley". His talent was that of bringing life to the scene, whether his medium was pencil, ink wash, or oil; he brought the reader into the story. He was also part of the first generation of American illustrators that successfully challenged the dominance of English and European mid-19th Century illustration.

Darley's first independent projects, published in 1843, were a series of outline drawings depicting the "noble savage" in "Sketches in Indian Life", and pen drawings of Philadelphia street life for a publication, "In Town and About".

His fame was a reflection of the company he kept, and notable people chose him to illustrate their books and magazines. A high point of Darley's career was his illustration project for the complete works of James Fenimore Cooper, involving designs for 64 steel engravings and 120 wood engravings. This led to the publication of 'The Cooper Vignettes', which showcased Cooper's works.

Felix Darley resided in Philadelphia, his birth place, until 1849 when he had gained a strong recognition. He had used his spare time to create woodcuts for magazines, and took money he saved to finance a sketching trip, which convinced him of his artistic talents.

He moved to New York City, thinking that if he became more well known he would be closer to the publishers. There he created designs for bank notes and exhibited at the National Academy of Design. His designs were reproduced with all the leading graphic techniques---lithography, wood engraving and steel engraving. His style was very linear and did not have a lot of shading. He "drew in a free, spontaneous manner and a romantic spirit, invariably capturing the essential point or flavor of the scene to be portrayed." (Baigell 85). Normally he worked with pen alone but also did flowing sepia with pencil outlines.

He later moved to Claymont, Delaware, after marrying Jane Colburn in 1859, to reside at his studio/estate, "The Wrens Nest". It is believed his move to Claymont was to seek a simpler life that would include cows, horses, rivers and streams simply a slower pace. He lived there until 1888, when he died, pencil in hand.

Howard Pyle, a well-known Delaware artist and instructor to N.C. Wyeth, was seven years old when Darley moved to Delaware. Some historians think that Darley influenced the young Pyle, although he evolved into a different style of illustration.

Sources include:
Walt Reed, "The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000"
Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Art"
Thomas Nygard Gallery

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I
Felix Octavius Carr Darley, (1821-1888).

Darley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a self-taught and prolific artist who started out as a staff artist for a Philadelphia publishing company where he was given a wide variety of assignments. After moving to New York, his work began to appear in magazines such as Harper's Weekly and in books by various publishers. Darley made 500 drawings for Lossing's History of the United States. Among his lithographic illustrations are those for Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", and some scenes in Indian life. The swing and vigor of his style, his facility, and versatility and the high average merit of his numerous works, make him one of the most noteworthy of American illustrators.

Darley signed a contract with Edgar Allan Poe on January 31, 1843, to create original illustrations for his upcoming literary journal The Stylus.[1] The contract, which was through July 1, 1844, requested at least three illustrations per month, "on wood or paper as required," but no more than five, for $7 per illustration.[2] The Stylus was never actually produced but Darley provided illustrations for the final installments of the first serial publication of Poe's award-winning tale "The Gold-Bug" later that year.[3]

In 1848, Darley provided the drawings for the first fully-illustrated edition of Irving's "Rip Van Winkle"[4] which was printed and distributed by the American Art-Union.[5] That same year, also illustrated an edition of Irving's The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon and his Wolfert's Roof in 1855.[5] Over his career, he produced nearly 350 drawings for James Fenimore Cooper, later collected in a several-volume edition of Cooper's novels printed from 1859 to 1861.[5] In 1868 he published, after a visit to Europe, Sketches Abroad with Pen and Pencil. His water color paintings of incidents in American history are full of spirit and his bank-note vignettes are also worthy of mention.

He died in 1888 at his home in Claymont, Delaware, and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His Victorian mansion, located in Claymont, is now known as the Darley House and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.


** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Share an image of the Artist

  Full access to biographies is
  free each Friday

About  Felix Darley

Born:  1822 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died:   1888 - Claymont, Delaware
Known for:  illustration, genre, rural views

Essays referring to
Felix Darley