Elihu Vedder (1836-1923) American
Birthplace/Origin: NYC, New York
Elihu Vedder (1836-1923) was born in New York City on February 26, 1836, and would become one of the most imaginative painters among American expatriate artists in the second half of the nineteenth century. Vedder’s father was a dentist working in Cuba while Vedder went to boarding school in New York and spent summers with his grandfather in Schenectady, New York. Vedder’s first foray into art was training under genre painter Tompkins Harrison Matteson. In 1856, he traveled to Paris for the first time to study with François-Édouard Picot. The following year, Vedder went to Florence where he studied under Raffaello Bonaituti. While in Florence, Vedder was introduced to and influenced by the macchiaioli, a group of artists who rebelled against academic painting and drew inspiration from macchie, or marks, similar to those used by the impressionists. After painting his first landscapes, Vedder explained, “I loved landscape but was eternally urged to paint the figure; and the figure suffered by my constant flirting with the landscape.”
Vedder established a career in New York, doing illustrations for Vanity Fair and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper while at the same time becoming intimate with the literary and artistic scene of the city. His companionship with writers such as Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Fitz Hugh Ludlow inspired Vedder to merge the literary and symbolic in his painting. In 1864, Vedder was named an Associate of the National Academy of Design and the following year gained full membership as an Academician.
After marrying Elizabeth Caroline Rosekrans in Glen Falls, New York in 1869, the two honeymooned together in England. This first visit to England had a tremendous effect on Vedder’s already mystical style: the influence of paintings by Pre-Raphaelites inspired Vedder to shift to a more classical artistic style, using symbolism to explore faith and morality in art. Vedder’s art would continue to reflect his focus on the search for the beautiful in art while employing Italian Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite tendencies.
Back in New York, Vedder inaugurated his participation in the decorative arts in America by designing Christmas cards in the early 1880s. He became a member of the Tile Club and The Century Association, designed publication covers for both groups, and in 1882 worked with Louis Comfort Tiffany designing stained glass for the residence of A. H. Barney. Vedder would decorate with astrological subjects which continually drew inspiration from the themes of fate and chance. Vedder’s culmination of his interest in literature came in 1884, when he illustrated the English translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. In the early 1890s, Vedder used his decorative art in mural painting, doing murals for the Walker Art Gallery Building at Bowdoin College, Collis Potter Huntington’s New York dining room, and the Library of Congress.
Vedder left the United States for the last time on March 22, 1901 and divided his time between Rome and his villa on the island of Capri. Writing poetry was a great solace to Vedder after the death of his wife Carrie in 1909, and later his son Enoch in 1916. Vedder published his autobiography The Digressions of V (1910), followed by Miscellaneous Moods in Verse (1914), and Doubt and Other Things (1922). Vedder died January 29, 1923 in Rome. Vedder remained faithful to the exploration of his own dreams and perceptions in his art as influential art critic Diego Angeli wrote, “Elihu Vedder was one of the most thoughtful painters.” It was Vedder’s search for meaning fueled by the exploration of his own subconscious that gave his decorative art visual significance. The dream-like imagery in his paintings secured Vedder’s legacy as a brilliant and visionary artist.
* Biography courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art