An institution-sized, monumental hand-tinted highlighted fine art print of Edwin Austin Abbey’s “King Lear, Act I, Scene I” that was created for museum display in New York City by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 20th century. The original oil painting still hangs at the Met, and this nearly 7 foot fine art hand-highlighted print, made its way to a convent in the midwest after being regionally exhibited along with a number other works from their collection. The piece retains its original period gesso frame, old glass, and museum tag. The detailing on this is amazing and it is a larger-than-life example of the pre-Raphaelite mural style Abbey was best known for.
A biography of Edwin Austin Abbey
Born in 1852, the name of Edwin Austin Abbey is related to both contemporary American art nouveau and symbolist movements. He was on staff at Harpers magazine by the time he was 19, and, despite success, recognition, and raises, left to pursue a free-lance career at the age of 22.
He returned to Harpers in 1876, at the ripe old age of 24. Abbey was inspired by the English contingent: Leighton, Watt, Boughton, and others. Already a proponent of drawing from life, he was further inspired by the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. This led to a journey to England in 1878, in service of accuracy in his drawings for Herrick’s Poems. He remained there for most of his life.
His pen work, though always excellent, took on a new dimension. The sketching “rambles” he experienced in England with Alfred Parsons and George Boughton reinforced his belief in the value of drawing from the source. Like Daniel Vierge, Abbey was quick to see the advantage of “process” reproduction of his pen drawings (“process” being any of several photographic processes that eliminated the engraver’s reinterpretation).
While in England he produced illustrations for many Harpers serials including “She Stoops to Conquer” (collected as a sumptuous book in 1887), “Old Songs,” and “Judith Shakespeare” (the first two were also published in book form with Abbey’s illustrations). While in Europe, he met and was inspired by the great French and English artists of the day, especially John Singer Sargent.
Abbey often lived at his studio in Broadway, and they frequently painted together. He was also friends with Alma-Tadema, DuMaurier, Whistler, and others. And though he was painting throughout, he still used the pen as his primary artistic tool. This prowess with the pen led Harpers to assign him a series of illustrations for Shakespeare’s comedies in 1887.
After a short trip back to New York in 1889, he immediately returned to England, where the lure of authentic costumes could not be denied. On the trip, he convinced himself that his future should be in oil painting. The Shakespeare illustrations, which would continue until 1909, were executed in many media: pen, oil, watercolor and pencil. These were some of his first published oil paintings and his European experience continued to pay dividends. He also traveled to Italy for more research.
In 1890, he received the commission for the Holy Grail murals at the Boston Public Library. The first half were completed and installed in 1895, the remainder in 1901. That year Abbey was elected President of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.
Always a popular artist, in 1902, he illustrated an edition of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village. (Goldsmith also wrote “She Stoops to Conquer,” one of his earliest successes).
That year, Abbey also accepted his second great mural commission: the new state capitol at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The images for these murals show him working from the nude model and the resultant figure studies, like “Men at an Anvil,” leave absolutely no doubt as to his prowess and talent.
Abbey died in London in 1911 before completing the murals. They were finished by J. S. Sargent. A most excellent biography by E. V. Lucas, with two hundred black & white, mostly photogravure, illustrations, was published in 1921 titled Life and Work of Edwin Austin Abbey, R.A. It is highly recommended. A limited edition with an original Abbey drawing exists.
The research Abbey did for the Harpers “Shakespeare Comedies and Tragedies” series was put to excellent use in his many award-winning easel paintings.