Elihu Vedder is best known for his allegorical and symbolic works and for his fresh and sparkling images of the Italian landscape. Born in New York, he spent most of his working life in Europe. As a young aspiring artist he left America in 1856 for Paris and Italy, where he copied works by great artists of the past--for example Domenichino--and made intimate, freely drawn sketches of landscape and genre scenes such as Students in the Latin Quarter, Paris.
After his return to New York in 1861, Vedder produced some of his most haunting and famous paintings. In a highly realistic style he painted strange combinations of objects that often symbolize ideas and evoke a mood of sadness and mystery. There is a dreamlike quality to some of these images, and many of his contemporaries found them baffling.
Vedder settled permanently in Rome in 1866, painting the Italian countryside and returning frequently to the United States to work on commissions for mosaics and murals. His symbolic and allegorical paintings of monumental figures were suited to large, public murals, which were popular in late nineteenth-century America. He created murals for the Bowdoin College art gallery in 1894 and for the Library of Congress in 1896. Many regard Vedder's illustrations for the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as his finest work.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]