Frank Reilly

Frank Reilly and Doug HigginsSome artists have as much, or more, impact as a teacher as they do as an artist.

Although Frank Reilly had been fulfilling assignments as a professional illustrator even while he was still a pupil at the Art Students League, it was on his return there as a teacher that he would make his greatest contribution.

Reilly was one of the most influential American art teachers in the 20th Century. He is credited with codifying methods for teaching drawing, painting, illustration and other aspects of representational art in ways that became the foundation for teaching techniques still in use today.

Reilly organized the study of color, value, form, composition and other elements of painting and drawing into systematic programs built on Munsell’s scientific study of color and the knowledge he acquired from his own teachers (who included renowned anatomist George Bridgeman, Frank Vincent DuMond and his friend and neighbor, the great illustrator Dean Cornwell), as well as his own experience as a working illustrator.

For the 35 years he taught at the Art Students League his classes and lectures were waiting list and standing room only.

I can point you to two excellent sources of information about Reilly on the web. One is an article American Art Archives, the other is a remembrance by contemporary realist Doug Higgins in which he gives a wonderfully detailed account of his experiences as a student of Reilly’s, profusely illustrated with his notes, drawings and paintings from his classes (images at left, bottom).

Because Higgin’s site is in frames, I’ve popped it out of context here because it’s the only way to link to it directly. The original context is a link within Higgin’s main site.

Another of Reilly’s students, Jack Faragasso, who succeeded Reilly at the school he founded, has published a book, Mastering Drawing The Human Figure From Life, Memory, Imagination which is based in large part on Reilly’s instruction.


18 Replies to “Frank Reilly”

  1. Excellent post!

    I’d never heard of Reilly until you mentioned him (I’m in the UK so it was slightly unlikely!).

    Now I’m going to dig a bit deeper into his methods and his successors.


  2. Thanks, Michael.

    I tried to find some online images and info about Reilly’s predecessor at the Art Student’s League, George Bridgeman. While his excellent books are widely available, I was surprised that I conltn’t find much of anything online about him.

  3. I was a Faragasso student at the Art Student’t League of New York and am of course very pleased to see this article on Frank Reilly.

    Reilly’s impact on the world of illustration was profound.

    The “Reilly Method” is still talked about at the league and I hope this article leads to a better understanding of his work and important legacy to the craft and discipline of illlustration and drawing.


  4. I am currently trying to teach my self the Frank Reilly system… beacause it is so organized, I only have books , by Reilly students and articles on the system.. i would like to talk with Andrew Swift or any student of that system,,, I once heard about a boook that reilly wrote for a course , that is in a wherehouse in Calf.. any help given would be appreciated thank Nick please email me email hidden; JavaScript is required.. I have Faragasso books and all i could find thanks Nick

  5. Reilly’s classes were too filled up at Art Students League so I was able to enroll at his class at a school called Modern Art School in NYC. Is that school still around?
    Probably not…but his teaching left a great
    impression on me.

  6. I have done some research on the palette used by Reilly and Dumond. It is my conclusion that Dumond taught the palette to Reilly. I would love to hear comments on this.


  7. Tell me more about Dumond. I have read as much as I can about Frank J. Reilly and students of his who have written books. Does anyone have an old textbook or Frank Reilly or can tell me who I can contact who might have one. Thanks Carol

  8. I studied with Frank J. Reilly at the Art Student League and at The Frank Reilly of Art. During my time with Mr. Reilly (as all the students addressed him) I served as one of his drawing class monitors for two years.
    Frank Reilly was a genius instructor who was a master craftsman, and possessed and developed a vast body of knowledge on the craft of drawing, painting, and picture making which he was uniquely able to impart to his students. Sadly a great deal of what he taught is undocumented.
    Reilly had a great gift, he could (and did) identify what in a student’s work needed to be improved before the student could truly advance.
    Reilly had many influence but beyond doubt the greatest was the great illustrator Dean Cornwell.
    Perhaps I can answer some questions on Reilly, I’ll be happy to take them on.
    Candido Rodriguez

  9. Thank you so much for linking to my website which includes my book devoted to the Reilly teaching method. I was his drawing and painting monitor and he honored me further by eventually displaying my student work on the walls of the school. I took scrupulous notes during his lectures upon which the book is based. He gave me a career and it’s not too much of a stretch to say… a life. The book is my insufficient thank you.
    Doug Higgins, Santa Fe

  10. I studied under Cesar Borgia (one of Reilly’s original students) at the “Reilly League of Artists” in White Plains, NY for more than 13 years. Cesar and Lu Deluca (the other instructor at the League) both died last year (2008) and the League is now defunct after 35 years of operation under Borgia. I am currently trying to carry on the tradition of the “Reilly Method” in Santa Fe, NM at the Santa Fe School of Art where I am teaching two classes in figure drawing. If anyone knows of any other books or notes on the “Reilly Method” (besides the Faragasso and Higgins books), I would appreciate the information.

  11. I just found another book which uses some of Reilly’s methods…
    It is called
    “The Artists Atelier” Edited by Henry J.T. Doren.
    Has anyone read it?

  12. My wife and I have just finished writing and publishing a book based on the “Reilly” drawing technique entitled “Figure Drawing from Life: Tools, Techniques and Tricks”. It is 75 pages long, 11 in.x 8.5 in. x 1 in., in black and white, cost $25 (not including shipping). Please contact us through out website if you are interested in purchasing a copy.

  13. My friend Clark Hulings, a former Reilly student, once showed me his copy of the Reilly correspondence book in which he was included. It was large and thick. We were on our way to lunch so I didn’t see much other than his lesson but it was packed full of artist lessons, none by Mr.Reilly, and not all by his former students. I had once lent him my book on Frank Brangwyn so I’m sure he would have lent it to me but I’m afraid I neglected to ask. His wife, Mary, survives him so I suppose I could ask her as I’d love to pour over it.

  14. Jack Farragasso at the Art Student’s League in New York still teaches the unadulterated Reilly System. He gives the lectures in proper order, though if you enter class in the middle of the year you will miss the first ones. Marvin Mattelson teaches the Reilly System at the School of Visual Arts, as well as through workshops. His demos on line are so thorough you could figure out the basic system just by looking through his demonstrations. Marvin has tweaked the palette to match Paxton’s (from the Boston School) and it is a huge improvement on the original palette. However, the Boston School does not lay in or produce a painting using Reilly methods so this is not Paxton’s method of painting, just the Reilly System using his palette. Nanette Fluhr gives an overview of the Reilly System in her children’s portrait workshop on She tweaked the palette to use Brilliant Pink and Alizarin as her red string and Yellow Ochre and Burnt Umber as her yellow string. If you look at her class materials and read questions and answers by the students, you have a general idea of the Reilly system of painting. A bargain for $25! And the course is online so convenient for those who can’t get to New York.

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