Edwin Austin Abbey was an American illustrator and muralist. Born here in Philadelphia, he moved to New York as a teenager (not that the term “teenager” was used in those days) and began doing illustration for Harper’s. When he was in his 20’s, Harper’s sent him to England to do research for an illustration project and he became a lifelong Anglophile, settling in London when he was 30.
He was one of the great pen and ink illustrators of the “Golden Age” of illustration. As his career progressed, he moved into painting and large scale murals. He was commissioned to do murals for the Boston Public Library, along with sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and painter John Singer Sargent, with whom he was friends, and created large scale works based on the quest for the Holy Grail. He also did murals and decorations for the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, which were finished by Sargent after Abbey’s death.
He was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters, and shared their fondness for subjects from English literature, particularly Shakespeare. He did a series of wonderful works based on scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, such as the scene from Hamlet, above.
I’ve been unable to find many reproductions of his murals on the web. There are somewhat better resources for his painted illustrations. One of the best sources for his pen and ink work is Paul Giambarba’s nicely illustrated article on 100 Years of Illustration and Design.
There is a page on the John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery that features some of Abbey’s work as well as Sargent’s charcoal portrait of him.
Abbey’s images were rich in detail, vibrant in color, full of intense contrasts of dark and light and populated by graceful figures and dramatic faces.