The papers of painter and illustrator Elihu Vedder measure approximately 9.2 linear feet and date from 1804-1969, with the bulk of the material dating from 1840-1923. The collection documents Vedder's personal life and work. Best known for his illustrations of the 1884 edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Vedder's papers include correspondence, writings, diaries, photographs, a limited number of drawings, books and printed material, legal and financial papers, and scattered personal and family papers.
Scope and Content Note:
The Elihu Vedder papers measure approximately 9.2 linear feet and date from 1804 to 1969, with the bulk of the material dating from 1840 to 1923. The collection documents the life and work of the painter and illustrator, who was perhaps best known for his illustrations of the 1884 edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Papers include correspondence, writings, diaires, photographs, a limited number of drawings, books and printed material, legal and financial papers, and scattered personal and family papers.
Correspondence consists of incoming and drafts of outgoing letters concerning both personal and professional matters. The majority of the business correspondence was written by Vedder's wife, Caroline R. Vedder, on his behalf and documents the sale and exhibition of Vedder's work, commissions for paintings, and his illustrations for books. Also found is corresondence between and amongst various members of Vedder's immediate and extended family (including early letters between his parents, Elizabeth and Elihu Vedder, Sr.), and between Caroline R. Vedder and her immediate family (including her mother, sisters, and nieces).
Writings consist of drafts, manuscripts, typescripts, and illustrations for various books that Vedder wrote late in his career after he had stopped painting, and for various other poems, essays, and stories, as well as some writings by others. Also found are several diaries belonging to Vedder and Caroline R. Vedder, which record some of the daily activities and travels of Vedder and his wife. Photographs include ones of Vedder, his studio, his friends and family, and his artwork, as well as ones of various residences, from various trips, and of an unidentified exhibition of Vedder's work. Drawings include a study for "The Rubaiyat" and "The Artist's Daughter," along with scattered sketches, plans, and bookplates. Also found are copies of Vedder's published books, and clippings, catalogs, art reproductions, and other printed material.
Also in the collection are scattered legal papers (wills, deeds, and agreements of various family members), finanical papers (such as receipts and statements), notes on family history and other family papers, miscellaney, and numerous annotated envelopes and enclosures that once housed some of Vedder's papers.
The collection is arranged as seven series:
Series 1: Miscellaneous Personal Papers, 1811-1938 (Boxes 1, 10; 1.0 linear foot)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1804-1951 (Boxes 2-5; 3.6 linear feet)
Series 3: Diaries, 1878-1890 (Box 5; 0.1 linear feet)
Series 4: Writings, 1848-1923, 1969 (Boxes 5-7, 10; 1.7 linear feet)
Series 5: Books and Printed Material, 1864-1939 (Boxes 7-8; 0.9 linear feet)
Series 6: Drawings, 1888-1912 (Box 8, OV 12; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 7: Photographs, 1840s-1920s (Boxes 8-9, 11, OV 13; 1.5 linear feet)
Elihu Vedder was born in New York in 1836. He grew up in Cuba, where his father worked as a dentist, and on his grandfather's farm in Brooklyn. He was educated in boarding schools and by tutors, and showed an interest in drawing at an early age. He began his formal training with T. H. Matteson in New York, and went on to study with Francois-Edouard Picot in Paris and Raffaello Bonaiuti in Florence.
After studying in Europe for several years, Vedder returned to the U.S. in 1860 and settled in New York, where he worked as a commercial illustrator during the Civil War. In 1864, he was one of the artists who illustrated the first American edition of Tennyson's Enoch Arden, which was published by Ticknor and Fields. During this time, he became associated with a bohemian group of artists and writers that regularly met at Pfaff's coffee shop. Some of the earliest exhibitions of his work took place at the annual spring exhibits at the National Academy of Design from 1863 to 1865. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1865. After the war he returned to Europe, eventually settling permanently in Italy.
In 1869 Vedder married Elizabeth Caroline Beach Rosekrans (Carrie). They lived in Rome, where Vedder earned his living by undertaking commissioned work (what he termed "duty painting") while also producing paintings on original themes and subjects, such as The Cumaean Sibyl (1875-1878) which became one of his most celebrated paintings. Vedder's wife aided him in his work by cultivating patrons and carrying out all the business correspondence. Over the years he exhibited his work in London, Paris, New York and Boston (where it was especially well-received). While achieving a certain degree of success, he struggled throughout his career to make a living as an artist.
Vedder also carried out work on commission, designing covers for Century Magazine in 1881 and illustrations for various other publications such as Harper's. He experimented in other decorative arts also, designing glass ringwork, firebacks, and tiles; apart from some commissions for glass work from Tiffany's, these other projects never really got off the ground.
Vedder made his biggest contribution to American commercial art in 1884 with his illustrations of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Exhibitions of the original drawings followed, which were well-attended by the public; he also painted and sold several pictures from the Rubaiyat drawings. In the 1890s he undertook several mural projects, including ones for the Walker Art Building at Bowdoin College and the Library of Congress.
In the early 1900s, Vedder built a villa on the island of Capri, where he spent the summers and falls while continuing to live the rest of the year in Rome. From this point on, he didn't undertake any new major paintings, but instead turned to writing and illustrating books of autobiography and verse. His books include The Digressions of V (1910), Miscellaneous Moods (1915), and Doubt and Other Things (1922).
Vedder died on January 29, 1923, at the age of 87.
This biographical note draws from Regina Soria's biography, Elihu Vedder: American Visionary Artist in Rome (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1970).
Related material found in the Archives of American Art includes 3 letters written by Elihu Vedder that comprise a small collection donated by Charles E. Feinberg.
Four originals drawings (filmed on Reel 671: 608-610 and 612) were returned to the donor and are not described in the Container Listing.
The bulk of the collection was donated in 1962-1964 by Lawrence Fleischman and Harold Love (who bought the papers in 1926 from Mrs. Nadia Tomassi, a Vedder family friend who had held the papers since Vedder's death in 1923). Several books were donated by Irving Burton in 1964 and 1977. Some correspondence, writings, notes, and printed material were donated in 1981 by Mrs. John Breck.
The bulk of this collection has been digitized. Use of material not digitized requires an appointment.