Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Holy Grail Murals: Edwin Austin Abbey

I was fortunate enough to have seen Edwin Austin Abbey's murals in the Boston Public Library about 5 years ago and a love affair with his work was born. The grand scale of these murals certainly fits such a lofty subject matter — Sir Galahad's quest of the Holy Grail. When I returned from that visit, I searched the internet but was disappointed that I didn't find much published about him. He remains almost as elusive as said vessel.

Recently, I found a tiny book on Ebay published in 1936 about this frieze and has 15 color plates (the reproduction is not fantastic) and a few black and white details. The astonishing part was this:
In May, 1890, Abbey signed a contract to paint a frieze for the Delivery Room of the Boston Public Library, the subjects to be of his own choice; the compensation, $15,000. His final selection was the legend of aspiration, "The Quest of the Holy Grail." are eight feet in height, and of varying lengths, totalling 194 feet; they contain about one hundred and fifty life-size figures.

No. 2 of the murals. The vigil before departure. The nuns bring him to Sir Lancelot, who fastens on one of his spurs; Sir Bors attaches the other, preparing him for his quest.

No. 12 and says "Sir Galahad, borne up on a white charger, and followed by the blessings of his people, is seen passing from the land, where peace and plenty once more reign." Sadly, we are in need of this now!

Grace, of The Beautiful Necessity - ever vigilant for beauty - posted about him here, and recently pointed me in the direction of another blog entry about Abbey made by A Polar Bears Tale. You can find it here.


  1. Now I am feeling the inclination to visit the BPL again. Traveling in to Boston next week...

  2. It is so very strange to me that there isn't more information out there on him! He deserves a nice big glossy book of his work, really beautiful.

  3. Jen - I so wish for a book of his collected works with clear, vibrant images!

  4. These images are so beautiful! I really need to see this. I was just telling M this morning that I want to go to Boston- now- another reason!
    No. 12 reminds me of the Knight of Cups in the
    Rider Waite tarot deck.
    This deck was published. I think, ca. 1909. Perhaps the image on this card was partially inspired by the painting?

  5. SilkandBone - I think you'd love seeing both this mural, the Sargent murals on the upper floor and the room with beautiful old books! Plus, I'm sure Jen has told you how lovely the Isabella Stewart Gardner is. And the Fogg!

    That card image definitely looks inspired by a similar source.

  6. beautiful, i do wish i could paint like that, sigh x