After emigrating to Milwaukee with his parents in 1885, Arthur E. Becher began his career by studying and training under prominent German emigrant artists Friedrich Wilhelm Heine and Robert Schade. Through his training, Becher learned the naturalistic style that was taught to them during their academic training in Europe. In the late 1890s, Becher joined the Milwaukee Art Students League and spent time painting at Jones Island, which was a fishing spot located just south of the city. In the early 1900s, Becher wound up taking studio classes under the instruction of Howard Pyle, a distinguished illustrator and teacher, at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Having entered into the classes as an advanced student, Pyle helped critique his work, allowing Becher to focus on mastering the finer details and nuances of gesture, and expression.
Becher’s work, especially his fictional pieces, were successful in grabbing the viewer’s attention and distracting them from their daily lives and routines. His paintings and drawings tell romantic, mysterious, and gripping stories without giving away the main plot. These diversionary and escapist pieces were popular at the time, and Becher’s ability to portray scenes of action, pleasure, and intrigue through various colors and gradation captured the reader’s eye.
Aside from Becher’s work in fiction, he also illustrated novels, historical school texts, and religious works. He also painted landscapes of the area around the Hudson Valley, where he moved later on with his wife, Frieda L. Knappe. The two married in 1904, and Frieda was known to have frequently modeled for him for book and magazine illustrations.
A few years after they married, Becher traveled to London in 1908 for a commission by Appleton Magazine. There, he met German painter Leopold Otto Strützel, best known for his landscape painting, and with whom he’d study oil painting. The same year, Becher had established himself as an illustrator, working for various magazines and publishers, some of which included Scribner’s and Leslie’s.
In 1911, Becher exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and in 1917 he moved from Ardsley, New York to Putnam County where he and his wife bought a farm. Later, he became a member of the Society of Illustrators. Becher worked for 40 years as one of the country’s leading illustrators, and in November 1960, he died in Poughkeepsie, New York at the age of 83.
Illustrations by Arthur Becher
Samuels, Peggy and Harold Samuels. The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City N.Y: Doubleday, 1976.
Merrill, Peter C. and Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies (University of Wisconsin--Madison). German-American Artists in Early Milwaukee: A Biographical Dictionary. Madison Wis: Friends of the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies, 1997.
Falk, Peter H. et al. Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975: 400 Years of Artists in America. Madison CT: Sound View Press, 1999.
Reed, Walt and Society of Illustrators. The Illustrator in America 1860-2000. New York N.Y: Society of Illustrators: Distributors to the trade in the United States and Canada Watson-Guptill: Distributed throughout the rest of the world by Harper Collins, 2001.