Edwin Austin Abbey

Edwin Austin Abbey, “Sir Gahahad Becomes King of Sarras”, Panel from “The Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail”, 1895-1902, Mural with Fifteen Panels, Abbey Room, Boton Public Library

Edwin Austin Abbey was an American muralist, illustrator and painter He flourished at the beginning of the golden age of illustration. Abbey is best knwon for his drawings and paintings of Victorian and Shakespearean subjects. His most famous set of murals was his work “The Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail”, which adorns the walls of the Boston Public Library.

Edwin Austin Abbey was a young, highly regarded illustrator for “Harper’s Monthly” magazine, but had never completed any work in oil paint when he was approached for the mural commission. In 1890, Abbey and John Singer Sargent dined with Charles Follen McKim, Stanford White, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens in New York, where architect McKim convinced him to consider painting a mural cycle in the Boston Public Library’s Book Delivery Room.

Upon visiting the library during its construction with McKim, Abbey agreed to undertake the project and signed a contract to complete the work for $15,000 in 1893. Abbey selected a subject of “legendary romance” in The Quest for the Holy Grail, basing his work upon Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s version of the Arthurian tale. It took Abbey eleven years to complete al the murals for the project.

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