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American Symbolist American
Elihu Vedder was an American Symbolist painter, book illustrator, and poet, who is best known today for his fifty-five illustrations for Edward FitzGerald's 1884 translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (published by Houghton Mifflin).
Elihu Vedder was born February 26, 1836, in New York City. His mother supported his goals to be an artist against the wishes of her husband, and Vedder first trained in New York City with Tompkins H. Matteson and later went to Paris to study with François-Édouard Picot. Between 1858 and 1860, he completed his studies in Florence under Raffaello Bonaiuti, where he was strongly influenced by Italian Renaissance art as well as Italian plein air painters. This ended in 1860 when Vedder's father cut off his allowance. Back in the United States during the Civil War period, Vedder undertook commercial illustrations for a living. At the same time, he attended the antique classes at the National Academy of Design in 1862-63, and he exhibited in the annual exhibition of 1862. Vedder became friends with Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and William Morris Hunt, and in 1865 he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
After his marriage in 1869, Vedder and his wife returned to Italy where they settled in Rome and, after the financial success of his Rubaiyat illustrations, also acquired a villa on the Isle of Capri. They would remain in Italy until his death on January 29, 1923, with only occasional return visits to the United States. His Symbolist and visionary paintings were exhibited to both critical and popular acclaim at Boston’s Williams and Everett Gallery in 1879. Vedder experimented in a number of media, including relief sculpture in marble and bronze, mural paintings for Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and even stained glass for Tiffany and Company in New York. In 1890 Vedder helped establish the In Arte Libertas group in Italy, and in 1910 published an autobiography, The Digressions of V: written for his own fun and that of his friends.