Skip to main content

Elihu Vedder papers, 1804-1969, bulk 1840-1923

Elihu Vedder papers, 1804-1969, bulk 1840-1923

Vedder, Elihu, 1836-1923

Muralist, Sculptor, Painter, Author, Illustrator

The papers of Elihu Vedder in the Archives of American Art were digitized from 17 reels of microfilm. Photographs from Series 7 have been digitized from originals. The bulk of the papers have been scanned, totaling 21,794 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 9.0 linear ft.

Summary: The Elihu Vedder papers measure approximately 9 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), financial 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.

Biographical/Historical Note

Painter, muralist, sculptor, illustrator, writer; Rome and the Isle of Capri, Italy. b. 1836, New York, N.Y.; d. Jan. 29, 1923, at the age of 87; Symbolist painter.


Material on reels 515-529 and 671 donated by Lawrence Fleischman and Harold Love, 1962 through 1964. Books, Doubts and Other Things and Miscellaneous Moods donated by Irving Burton, 1964 and 1977. Material on reel 2323 donated by Mrs. John Breck, 1981.

Related Materials

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.


Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

A Finding Aid to the Elihu Vedder Papers,
(bulk 1840-1923)
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
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
. 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
Miscellaneous Moods
(1915), and
Doubt and Other Things
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).
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)
Material on reels 515-529 and 671 donated by Lawrence Fleischman and Harold Love, 1962 through 1964. Books, Doubts and Other Things and Miscellaneous Moods donated by Irving Burton, 1964 and 1977. Material on reel 2323 donated by Mrs. John Breck, 1981.
Processing Information
The collection was largely processed before being partially microfilmed in 1962-1964 on reels 515-529 and 671, and in 1981 on reel 2323. Two drawings, study for "The Rubaiyat" and "The Artist's Daughter," received conservation treatment at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in 1986. The entire collection was fully processed, arranged and described by Jennifer Meehan in 2006, and the collection was digitized in 2007 and 2009 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The microfilm of this collection was digitized in 2007 and original photographs were digitized in 2009. Digitized materials are available via the Archives of American Art website.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Elihu Vedder papers, 1804-1969, bulk 1840-1923. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

  • No downloads available