Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935) was among the most gifted of the students of Howard Pyle. Quite early, she settled on exploring the universe of the child. Her mature work in no way resembles her teacher's, but bears more affinity to that of Edward Penfield and Toulouse-Lautrec and other poster artists, echoing the contemporary graphic approach with its emphasis on a spare but expressive charcoal line, somewhere between the fluidity of Art Nouveau and the boxiness of the Arts & Crafts movement. This style, together with excellent draftsmanship, and her strongly designed compositions, inspired a school of followers. Smith worked most comfortably with charcoal, often adding watercolor washes, occasionally varnishing over the drawing to add highlights in oil.
She was a prolific book illustrator, and many of these beautiful volumes are in print today. Her magazine covers, given little attention by her bibliographer Edward Nudelman, are no less important. Like her illustrations of verse, they tend to depict quintessential moments of childhood: playing with blocks, fear of the dark, etc., so they function quite well as pictures apart from their original connection with text. Through her pictures of children, whether illustrations for fairy tales or of simple domestic scenes, Smith changed and enlarged the appreciation of children in American popular culture by her enormously sympathetic portrayals.