Sunday, March 22, 2009

Edwin Austin Abbey -- The Great Unknown American Pre-Raphaelite

Edwin Austin Abbey was born in 1852 in Philadelphia. He studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. And he is, in my estimation, the closest thing America has to a true Pre-Raphaelite.

Although his art is absolutely stunning...to me, the equal to anything done by the second wave of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood...he isn't very well known at all. Very few books have been written about him. My friend, Lisa of Arteffex, who first introduced me to Abbey, visited the Holy Grail Murals in the Boston Public Library, painted by Abbey in 1895. The 15 murals at the library show the quest of Galahad from infancy to kingship. She visited the book store at the library to find a volume of his works, only to find that there was just one book published in the 1960s with black and white illustrations!

Although Abbey is generally referred to as a Golden Age Illustrator (and his work does have some aspects in common with such artists as Warwick Goble and Howard Pyle, I still feel like there's something about Edwin Austin Abbey's work especially that puts him in more of a Pre-Raphaelite style. His work seems more three-dimensional...more painterly than others of the Golden Age Illustrators (who I adore, let it be known).

Abbey's style puts me in mind of Waterhouse...very emotional and romantically minded. And yet he doesn't seem to have a "type" of female model like Waterhouse, Burne-Jones, and Rossetti all did. If you look closely at this stunning artwork of his, you can see that each of the women not only are dressed entirely uniquely, but they each have their own features and characteristics. This is my favorite artwork by Abbey, Castle of the Maidens. Thanks to Lisa for the image.

Please note...all of the below images are not done justice on the small thumbnail. Please enlarge each and every one for maximum impact!!!

(Incidentally, if you zoom in on this image, the woman's face directly to the left of the man in red looks very very Waterhouse to me...do you see it?)

Perhaps, like me, you have seen some of Edwin Austin Abbey's work before you even realized who he was, or that it was all done by the same amazing artist. I have long admired this piece of his...Oh Mistress Mine, Where Are You Roaming?

And I had also admired his artwork, Fair is My Love:
My fascination with Abbey comes in part from how few of his artworks are readily available online. Lisa graciously scanned these artworks in from a book she has on the Holy Grail that I didn't see anywhere else online:





And National Geographic's website has an article on the Grail that features this stunning piece as well:


My husband's family is from Youngstown, Ohio, and in their Butler Museum of American Art, they have a painting by Abbey that drew me in and captured me when I visited there, again, before I even put two and two together and realized Abbey was the same artist of other works I had admired. The artwork is entitled The Lady Anne, based on a scene from Shakespeare's Richard III. What I love so much about this artwork cannot be captured by as small an image as I can find of it online. The woman's face has something very very ethereal...quite faerie and not human at all...about it. In person, it stopped me in my tracks. The pose of her hands is very Rossetti too, is it not?


I'll close with a few more artworks by Abbey, since I simply cannot get enough. It fascinates me how his work keeps popping up all over the place...To me, he is truly the greatest untapped and relatively unknown artist of the Romantics.

King Lear, Act I, Scene I


A few images of the murals at the library:






An enlargement of the last image:
Richard, Duke of Glouchester, and the Lady Anne:

Stunning. Just stunning. I have a new addition to my top favorite artists...how about you?

12 comments:

William said...

Grace, I only discovered your wonderful blog a couple of days ago, and I feel compelled to tell you that I appreciate your efforts to bring greater exposure to the work of these amazing artists. If you haven't already done so, you might check out The Art Renewal Center, where the great artists honored and revered.

Hermes said...

Great post and WHAT a painter.

Grace said...

Thank you for your kind words, William and Hermes! William, I've searched for art on that site before, but I haven't explored it fully, and I look forward to doing so! I want to support any website that encourages art history! :)

Medieval Muse said...

Luckily when I viewed his murals, they had just been cleaned and I was told the colors were especially vibrant. He is definitely one of my favorites too. His clothing details are amazing.

Meredith said...

I love them. It's hard to find good size photos of them though. I remember seeing one of the paintings at Yale Center for British Art.

Grace said...

Lisa, I really admire what an eye he had for detail of medieval clothing and making it really pop. The last picture I put in the post takes my breath away when I view it full size.

Meredith, I really wish there were more large-scale prints of his work available!

Jim said...

Hello Grace. Yes, like you, I've seen Abbey's work before but never knew who he was. I think I've mixed his work up with another Pre-Raphaelite type painter called Thomas Cooper Gotch. I agree, the girl you mentioned does look like she's from a Waterhouse painting. I was also struck by the similarity of the girl to the right of the man in red (5th along). I think she looks very much like Waterhouse's Mariamne. Thanks for the post. There's some excellent pictures there.

Grace said...

Hi Jim,

Yes, I do recognize Gotch's work! I think I've seen several of his artworks before as well.

And yes, I see what you mean about the woman in white in _The Palace of the Maidens_. I love how her headpiece is slightly art nouveau as well.

So many amazing artists to explore!

Margaret said...

This was such an informative post--thank you, Grace! I had never even heard of Abbey before. Thank you for introducing him to us!

astraea said...

the library looks like he's reproduced the oxford union murals. my daughter lived across the street from the union when she was at oxford. adored them.

wonderful stuff, your blog. thank you.

I'm looking for more on Simeon Solomon...

Grace said...

Hello Astraea! I truly must make it back to Boston to admire all the incredible art there.

And if you do find more on Simeon Solomon, please let me know! He's a hard artist to track down.

PJ Lynch said...

Hi Grace
I love your blog and was delighted to find this post on Abbey. I had never seen a whole bunch of those images before.
Many thanks
PJ