Elihu Vedder: Voyage On the Nile, organized by the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers (September 24 – January 8, 2011), shows in sketches and paintings a voyage up Egypt’s Nile River a century ago, when Egypt’s tourist trade began to blossom. Painter and poet Elihu Vedder,embarked, in 1889, on this voyage that he regarded as the highlight of his life. An American, he spent much of his career in Italy, living and painting in and near Rome
One of the more complex figures of the late 19th-century American Renaissance, Elihu Vedder first gained attention for his painting of a sphinx while the Civil War raged in the United States and he, an illustrator in New York, was kept on the home front by an old arm injury. His iconic work, The Questioner of the Sphinx (1863), painted early in his career, would be associated with him for the rest of his life. Today, his scholarly and popular renown (including online) rests on this 150-year-old painting and other works that range from the unsettling and mysterious to the idealized and decorative.
First-Time Survey of Elihu Vedder Artwork
Anticipating his journey, Vedder wrote to his father: “I hope to make a quantity of valuable sketches so my time will be anything but lost.” In fact, Vedder’s trip yielded a rich legacy of 160 to 200 drawings, a diary of his adventure, and several paintings. His Nile drawings range from detailed compositions enhanced with pastel to journal scribbles of only a few lines. These materials had special meaning for the artist, who kept them together in his studio and hoped to publish them in a book. Other than a few pages in his autobiography, The Digressions of V (1910), his voyage memoirs were never published but many of the pastels remained in his studio and were part of his daughter Anita’s bequest to the American Academy of Arts and Letters that then were distributed to many American museums.
Vedder aboard a dahabeyah, a sailing boat on the Nile,sketched the Egyptian landscape, its deserts, horizons, and monuments, a world still resonating its ancient roots for turn-of-the-century tourists. He sketches, as travelers did, a world soon to be photographed, as photography, by 1889, came into its own as the documenter of travel and the exotic. Vedder’s drawings are, then, the product of an age drawing to a close.
The Hudson River Museum’s five Nile Journey drawings by Vedder inspired this first-time comprehensive survey exhibition of the artist’s Egyptian drawings and paintings. Today about one third of Vedder’s Nile images are located in museums and galleries throughout the United States. The Hudson River Museum has gathered them together, along with related paintings. Among the museums providing loans are The Butler Institute of American Art; Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; Corcoran Gallery of Art; New Britain Museum of American Art; Pennsylvania Academy; and the Phoenix Art Museum; in addition to private collectors and art galleries.
Museum Publishes New Catalogue of Vedder Artwork
For Elihu Vedder: Voyage On the Nile, the Hudson River Museum has published a catalogue with essays by Linda Ferber, Ph.D, Vice President and Senior Art Historian, New-York Historical Society, who brings new scholarly detail to the origins of Vedder’s early paintings and their ties to the New York and Boston art worlds; Egyptololgist Floyd Lattin, who sets the stage for what Egyptian life and travel was like for Americans and English in the 1880s and 1890s; and, the Museum’s Chief Curator of Collections LauraVookles, who organized the exhibition and compiled a new catalogue of Elihu Vedder’s drawings and paintings, with excerpts from his diaries.
Regina Soria published her 1970 biography, Elihu Vedder American Visionary Artist in Rome, 1836-1923, with a comprehensive record of Vedder’s overall output, including a numbered list of all known artworks from his entire career. Soria who expressed admiration for the Nile drawings and regarded them as a unique resource for further study, she classified only 30 of them. In the 40 years since Regina Soria’s book, some of Vedder’s Egyptian paintings have appeared in exhibition catalogues, but many of the drawings were photographed for the first time in the Hudson River Museum’s catalogue Voyage On the Nile. The Hudson River Museum’s contemporary catalogue includes 57 drawings and six paintings with known locations and as much information as possible about 25 additional pieces.
Elihu Vedder: Voyage On the Nile is the third in the Museum’s series: The Visitor In the Landscape, which explores the ways in which artists interpret, understand, and interact with the landscape and make it a part of our visual culture. Paintbox Leaves: Autumnal Inspiration from Cole to Wyeth launched the series in fall 2010, followed by Susan Wides: The Hudson Valley From Mannahatta to Kaaterskill in summer 2011. Both of those exhibitions were accompanied by catalogues.
The exhibition Elihu Vedder: Voyage On the Nile and the accompanying catalogue have been made possible by a generous grant from the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Inc.