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Elihu Vedder 1836-1923 | American symbolist painter and illustrator

For most of his career the american painter, Vedder, lived and worked in Europe, and like Whistler or Sargent he is in many ways as much a european as an american artist. He first visited Italy in 1857, when he was twenty one and studied in Florence under Raffaelle Bonaiuti. In 1866 he returned, married, to settle in Rome and remained based in Italy for the rest of his life, with a house on Capri as well as a home in Rome itself. He became a member of the large international circle of artists living and working in Rome, painting historical and religious subjects at first, but developing his own distinctive brand of Symbolist allegory. He was also a prolific landscape painter, working with Giovanni Costa and the 'Etruscans', including William Blake Richmond. From these landscape artists he took a love of low horizontal compositions that appear in his work in other genres. He visited England frequently, was much interested in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, becoming a friend of Simeon Solomon, with whose work his own has affinities. On his first visit to London in 1870 he met Watts and admired the work of Rossetti, Alma-Tadema and Leighton. Vedder's work has a power of evocation which is reminiscent of the symbolist artist Odilon Redon. In Rome in 1890 he was among the artists, including several from Britain, involved in the 'In Arte Libertas' group inspired by Gabriele D'Annunzio. Vedder hoped to receive the commission for the decoration of the American Episcopal Church in Rome, where he was a vestryman, but it was given to Burne-Jones. In the 1880s and 1890s he made frequent trips to the United States, and brought out his edition of Edward Fitzgerald's Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám there. Vedder described the Rubáiyát as 'a poem so much in harmony with my thought'. As a decorator, he created the allegorical paintings which are to be seen in the hallway of the Reading Room of the Library of Congress in Washington. After 1901 he remained in Italy, publishing his memoirs, The Digressions of V, in 1910.