Edwin Austin Abbey

Edwin Austin Abbey portrait

The Illustrators:

Edwin Austin Abbey (1851-1911), an American artist who for most of his professional career lived in England, was a master draftsman and prolific illustrator. Throughout his work, his marvelous dexterity with pen and ink is evident.

Born in Philadelphia, young Abbey began as a wood engraver for Harper's but quickly graduated to the drawing department.

After seven years with Harper's, he went to England where he discovered his true artistic soul embedded in the island kingdom's storied past. England became Abbey's home for the rest of his life, with only brief visits to America.

His knowledge of costume and period architecture led him to illustrate with his facile pen the works of Shakespeare and early Victorian poets. Many of the Shakespearean scenes he brought to life in his illustrations were reproduced in America by Harper and Brothers.

Always buoyant, confident, and adaptable, Abbey worked fast and produced a prodigious number of pencil and pen drawings and water colors.

By the 1890s he began working in oils and soon mastered that medium as well. Abbey became in 1898 a member of England's prestigious Royal Academy.

In 1890 he was invited along with his close friend John Singer Sargent to to produce mural decorations for the Boston Public Library. He built a large studio in England where, for the next several years, he and Sargent worked on the murals.

Abbey was invited in 1903 to create a pictorial record of the coronation of Edward VII. His last great works, incomplete at the time of his premature death in 1911, were mural decorations for the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.

"Baptista Protests," from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, 1896.

"Galahad's Departure," mural decoration from The Quest of the Holy Grail, Boston Public Library, 1902.

Pen and ink illustration for a poem
by Robert Herrick, 1880.

"The Death of Mercutio," William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene I, 1903.

"Enter Henry Osborne," illustration for the poem, The Silent Voice, 1896.

Scene from Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, 1897.

"The death of Henry VI," an illustration from Henry VI, by
William Shakespeare, 1904.

Sir John Falstaff and his page, from Shakespeare's Henry IV, 1904.

Petruchio, from Taming of the Shrew, Act I, Scene II, 1894.

Below left: a study for "Science Revealing the Treasures of the Earth," Pennysylvania Capitol Building, 1911.

Below right: study for "Cordelia," for Shakespeare's King Lear.

Illustration sketch by Edwin Austin Abbey

Study for "Religion," part of a mural for the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building, Edwin Austin Abbey's last project.

Edwin Austin Abbey in 1889, a crayon portrait by his good friend John Singer Sargent.

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