Edwin Austin Abbey studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Christian Schuessele.
Edwin Austin Abbey moved to New York City in 1871. He began as an illustrator, producing numerous illustrations and sketches for such magazines as Harper's Weekly from 1871 to 1874 and Scribner's Magazine. His illustrations began appearing in Harper's Weekly at an early age: before Abbey was twenty years old. His illustrations were strongly influenced by French and German black and white art. He also illustrated several best-selling books, including "Christmas Stories" by Charles Dickens (1875), "Selections from the Poetry" of Robert Herrick (1882), and "She Stoops to Conquer" by Oliver Goldsmith (1887).
Abbey moved to the United Kingdom in 1878, at the request of his employers, to gather material for illustrations of the poems of Robert Herrick, and settled permanently there in 1883. He returned to America frequently to execute murals, such as those in the Public Library, Boston, Massachussets, and the Pennsylvania State Capitol at Harrisburg. He also created illustrations for Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer (1887), for a volume of Old Songs (1889), and for the comedies (and a few of the tragedies) of Shakespeare. Among his water-colours are "The Evil Eye" (1877), "The Rose in October" (1879), "An Old Song" (1886), "The Visitors" (1890), and "The Jongleur" (1892). Abbey also illustrated a four-volume set of The Comedies of Shakespeare for Harper & Brothers in 1896.
In 1902 he was chosen to paint the coronation of King Edward VII. It was the official painting of the occasion and, hence, resides at Buckingham Palace.
In 1904 Abbey painted a mural for the Royal Exchange, London "Reconciliation of the Skinners & Merchant Taylors' Companies by Lord Mayor Billesden, 1484".
Abbey began an ambitious program of murals and other artworks for the newly completed Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1908-1909. These included allegorical medallion murals representing Science, Art, Justice, and Religion for the dome of the Rotunda, four large lunette murals beneath the dome, and multiple works for the House and Senate Chambers. For the Senate chamber he finished only one painting, "Von Steuben Training the American Soldiers at Valley Forge", and he was working on the "Reading of the Declaration of Independence" mural in early 1911, when his health began to fail. He was diagnosed with cancer. Studio assistant Ernest Board continued work on the mural with little supervision from Abbey, and with contributions by John Singer Sergeant.
Abbey died on August 1, 1911 in London, United Kingdom.
King Lear: Cordelia's Farewell
La reine dans Hamlet
Dans la crainte
La quête et accomplissement du Saint-Graal
The Lady Anne
O mistress mine, where are you roaming...
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and the Lady Anne
La pénitence d'Eléanor, Duchesse de Glouster
Fair Is My Love
Woman on a Bench
Anne Hutchinson on Trial
The Play Scene in Hamlet
Quest for the Holy Grail
La joueuse de luth
Who is Sylvia?
Le château des servantes
Abbey was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colours in 1883. He was also elected to the National Academy of Design, in 1902, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was honorary member of the Royal Bavarian Society and the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
Quotes from others about the person
“S.G.W. Benjamin: "It must be taken into consideration that he is still very young; that he now for the first time visits the studios and galleries of Europe; that his advantages for a regular art education have been very moderate, and that he is practically self-educated. And then compare with these disadvantages the amount and the quality of the illustrations he has turned out, and we see represented in him genius of a high order, combining almost inexhaustible creativeness, clearness and vividness of conception, a versatile fancy, a poetic perception of beauty, a quaint, delicate humour, a wonderful grasp of whatever is weird and mysterious, and admirable chiaro-oscuro, drawing, and composition. When we note such a rare combination of qualities, we cease to be surprised at the cordial recognition awarded his genius by the best judges, both in London and Paris, even before he had left this country."”
In 1890, Edwin married Gertrude Mead, the daughter of a wealthy New York merchant. Mrs Abbey encouraged her husband to secure more ambitious commissions, although with their marriage commencing when both were in their forties, the couple remained childless.