The Sunday Section: Art - Edwin Austin Abbey

You surely will not be surprised to hear that I was aware of the art of Edwin Austin Abbey before I knew anything of him. I used 2 images from his famous set of murals, ‘The Quest for the Holy Grail’, in the altered book I did, entitled ‘Arthur’.

Edwin Austin Abbey was born in Philadelphia in 1852, and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He began as an illustrator with his work appearing in Harper’s Weekly while still in his teens.

In 1871, he moved to New York. The 1875 publication of Charles Dickens’ ‘Christmas Stories’ included Abbey’s illustrations.

His employers requested he spend time in England to research the 17th century poet, Robert Herrick and so Abbey moved to England in 1878. In 1882, his illustrations graced ‘Selections from the Poetry of Robert Herrick’.

He eventually settled permanently in England in 1883, and was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours that same year.

In 1890, Abbey married Gertrude Mead, the daughter of a wealthy New York merchant; both were in their 40s by this time and remained childless.

Despite his moderate formal art education, he was recognised as a genius, not only by his birth country but also by London and Paris. It did not matter that he practically educated himself; he was made a full member of the Royal Academy in 1898.

'The Lute Player'

'A Pavane'


'The Queen in Hamlet'

'King Lear, Cordelia's Farewell'

'Head of Ophelia'

'Richard Duke of Gloucester and Lady Anne'

'The Penance of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester' (she had to walk the streets as punishment for practicing necromancy)

'The Crusaders Sighting Jerusalem'

'Who Is Sylvia? What Is She That All The Swains Commend Her?' (from Shakespeare's 'Two Gentlemen of Verona')

His famous set of murals, ‘The Quest for the Holy Grail’, which he worked on at his studio in England, took him 11 years and was finally completed in the 1890s. The set of 15 murals is at the Boston Public Library. (The full set can be viewed online at 'Digital Commonwealth'; search 'quest for holy grail')

'Galahad Receiving The Visit From An Angel'

'Sir Galahad Wedded To Blanchefleur'

'The Golden Tree, The Achievement of the Grail'

Abbey was chosen to paint the coronation of Edward VII in 1902; the official painting hangs in Buckingham Palace. The attention to detail is stunning.

Also in 1902, Abbey was elected to the National Academy of Design, and The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

His most ambitious project was started in 1908-09 with murals and artwork for the newly completed Pennsylvania State Capitol. Abbey would complete symbolic medallion murals representing Science, Art, Justice and Religion for the dome of the Rotunda; four large lunette murals beneath the dome; and other works for the House and Senate Chambers.

'The Apotheosis of Pennsylvania' (in the House Chamber)

In early 1911, while working on the ‘Reading of the Declaration of Independence’ mural, Abbey’s health started to fail; he was diagnosed with cancer.

Edwin Austin Abbey died in August 1911, aged 59. He is buried in the churchyard of Old St Andrews Church in Kingsbury, Greater London. Gertrude Abbey was instrumental in preserving her husband’s work. She wrote extensively about his art and gave her substantial collection to Yale.

Two rooms of the commission – the Senate and Supreme Court – remained unfinished at the time of his death. These were offered to Violet Oakley, the first American woman to have received a public mural commission. Having already painted 43 murals for the Governors Grand Reception Room at the State Capitol, she went on to complete Abbey’s commission using her own designs.

Violet Oakley

The Sunday Section: Travel - Magical Medieval Arundel Castle

The reason I didn’t post last Sunday was because I was away. Finally, after 3.5 months!! Finally, I got the chance, and I was going, regardless of the weather; the preceding week had been pretty dismal. But, come the Saturday, the sun shone, and it did for the whole day; in fact, the weather all weekend was wonderful.

Arundel Castle - the view just after leaving the train station

Arundel Castle - the view just after leaving the train station

Just saying – this is a pretty hefty post as I didn’t stint on the picture-taking :)

Arundel was and still is a bustling market town. It also used to be an important port, with ships sailing to and from the town along the river Arun to the sea, about 5 miles away. With a formidable-looking castle and a magnificent cathedral, I expected the town to be quite large but it wasn’t; most everything was within walking distance. The quaint little hotel was only yards from the train station, by a fairly busy road, but with a gorgeous view of fields and grazing cows. And the town was about a 5-10minute pleasant walk away.

I hadn’t done my ‘homework’ as I wanted to be surprised by the place. In hindsight, I wish I had as there’s so much history. Arundel Castle was granted to Roger de Montgomery on Christmas Day 1067 by his cousin, William the Conqueror, as a reward for keeping the peace in Normandy while William was busy conquering England. It was a package deal – Roger was also granted extensive lands in the Welsh Marches, including one-fifth of Sussex. The portioning off of Sussex was referred to as the Arundel Rape.

After the death of Roger de Montgomery, the castle reverted to the crown under Henry I who left it to his second wife, Adeliza of Louvain (present-day Belgium). 3 years after Henry’s death, she married William d’Aubigny, also known as William d’Albini. Having fought loyally for King Stephen, he was made 1st Earl of Lincoln and then 1st Earl of Arundel in 1138. In 1139, Matilda, Adeliza’s step-daughter, stayed at Arundel for some time while attempting to win back the crown from her cousin, Stephen.

Adeliza of Louvain

Adeliza of Louvain

It was at this point that I wished I’d read up on the castle’s history – I know this story, of Henry I, Adeliza and William, and of Matilda, Henry’s daughter – it’s the basis of the first Elizabeth Chadwick novel I’d read, ‘Lady of the English’.

Arundel Castle descended directly from the d’Aubigny family in 1138 to the FitzAlans in the 13th century, carried by female heiresses. There was the occasional reversion to the Crown, like in 1176 following the death of William d’Aubigny; first under Henry II, it then passed to Richard I, the Lionheart, who offered it back to the Aubigny family. After the death of the last male Aubigny, the castle and earldom passed to John FitzAlan of Clun through his marriage to Isabel Aubigny. The castle remained with the FitzAlan family until 1580.

With the marriage, in 1555, of Mary FitzAlan, the youngest child of the 19th Earl of Arundel, to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, the castle eventually passed from the FitzAlans to the Howards, who hold the dukedom of Norfolk. The castle has been the principal seat of the Norfolk family for over 400 years to the present day. Sadly, Mary died a year after marriage, following the birth of their son.

Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk

The Howards featured largely in English history, especially during the latter Plantagenet and Tudor period. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was one of the founders of English Renaissance poetry; he and his friend, Sir Thomas Wyatt, were the first English poets to write in the sonnet form that Shakespeare would later use. He was a first cousin of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Unfortunately, he and his father, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, were imprisoned and sentenced to death by a paranoid and very ill Henry VIII who was convinced they were planning on usurping the crown. Surrey was beheaded but his father escaped execution only because the king died; however, he remained imprisoned. Surrey’s son, Thomas, inherited the dukedom of Norfolk on the death of the 3rd duke in 1554. Thomas, 4th Duke of Norfolk, having gained Arundel Castle through marriage, lost it when he was executed for conspiring to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1572. The castle was later returned to the family.

During the Civil War, Arundel Castle was badly damaged. In December 1642, it was captured by a small force of Parliamentarians. One year later, it was captured by Royalists after a short siege but they then had to defend it against parliamentary troops; the Royalist defenders surrendered in January 1644.

The damage was gradually repaired over the years, with most of the restoration carried out by Henry, the 15th duke, and completed in 1900.

Walked down a footpath, by the river Arun, into town ...

Opted not to go into the castle rooms; not allowed to take photos and, to be honest, because the day was so glorious, didn't want to spend too long indoors ...

The FitzAlan Chapel, in the castle grounds, was the idea of Richard FitzAlan, the 10th Earl of Arundel, who’d fought at Crécy with Edward III, the Black Prince. The Chapel was built posthumously according to his will. The size of the building is deceptive; although large, on the inside it is split – it is one of the very few church buildings that is divided into 2 worship areas. The eastern end, the Chapel, is Catholic and the private mausoleum of the Dukes of Norfolk, and can only be accessed from the castle grounds; while the western side, with a separate entrance, is Anglican, occupied by St Nicholas Parish and Priory Church.

The Chapel’s main features are the beautiful seven-panel window, and the wooden vaulted roof, which, although rebuilt in 1886, still incorporates the medieval roof bosses. The brass ‘figures’ on the floor date back to the 15th century, while the tombs are 16th century.

The gardens … I personally think the gardens are worth the price of entry alone; I enjoyed them more than the castle. The garden by the Chapel is called the White Garden, and it’s filled with white flowers. Not to mention palm trees! That plus the balmy weather gave the impression of being somewhere on the continent.

This is named the Collector Earl’s Gardens, after the 14th Earl who was dubbed the ‘Collector’. Most of the treasures in the castle were collected by him including tapestries, clocks, and portraits by Thomas Gainsborough and Anthony Van Dyck.

The gardens include Herbaceous Borders and the Cut Flower Garden...

Wildflower Garden ...

This ... I wasn't sure what to make of it - it's a crown 'floating' at the top of a fountain!

View of the Cathedral from the castle gardens ...

The Rose Garden ...

Some of the buildings around town … Had lunch at a pretty little restaurant, called Belinda’s; the building dates back to the 16th century.

While walking around the town, stumbled on this little gem, tucked away from the main road. I stared at the sign that said ‘Public Garden’, wondering if there was a catch … not that I’m cynical or anything. But it’s as the sign says – a genuine public garden, for the enjoyment of anyone who wants to use it! If I lived in one of the houses close by, I’d be out there every fine morning and evening, with my coffee and a book.

The building in the next picture and the one below it is, apparently, the cinema!

Walked around to the other side of the castle, to the road leading to the Cathedral. Before the cathedral is the entrance to the Church of St Nicholas, another beautiful building. It still bears traces of wall paintings inside.

The Cathedral Church of Our Lady and St Philip Howard is fairly new; it was commissioned in 1868 by the 15th Duke of Norfolk, Henry Fitzalan-Howard. The architect was Joseph Hansom, the same man who invented the hansom cab. The Duke wanted a building that would complement the castle. Dedicated in 1873 as Arundel’s Catholic parish church, in 1965 it became a cathedral, serving Arundel and Brighton.

Henry Fitzalan-Howard

Henry Fitzalan-Howard

I have never seen an 'old' police lamp like this outside of films!

The view from the hotel room ...

The next day, had time to walk around after a late breakfast ...

Dominican friars were in Arundel, probably in the mid-13th century. Friars didn’t withdraw from the world like monks but went out to preach. This is the ruin of the Blackfriars Dominican Friary. Dominican friars were called ‘black friars’ because of the colour of their habits.

There's a path up the side of the castle that runs alongside the river ...

Although a popular tourist destination, and there were people about, nowhere felt crowded. That surprised me as the town is fairly small. It is definitely worth a return visit, and I am so glad and so lucky that it isn't far; methinks it would make for a pleasant day trip.

The Sunday Section: Art - Howard Pyle

My first experience of Howard Pyle was not as an artist but as an author when I bought a copy of ‘The Story of King Arthur and His Knights’ during our home-ed years. 

I’ve always been interested in the stories of King Arthur, and that interest rubbed off on the boys.  So I bought this to read to them, not realising that it wasn’t written in modern English.  Here’s a taster, when Merlin tells Uther-Pendragon of the prophecy after Arthur is born:

Lord, it is given unto me to foresee that thou shalt shortly fall sick of a fever and that thou shalt maybe die of a violent sweat that will follow thereon.  Now, should such a dolorous thing befall us all, this young child (who is, certes, the hope of all this realm) will be in very great danger of his life; for many enemies will assuredly rise up with design to seize upon him for the sake of his inheritance, and either he will be slain or else he will be held in captivity from which he shall hardly hope to escape.  Wherefore, I do beseech thee, Lord, that thou wilt permit Sir Ulfius and myself to presently convey the child away unto some place of safe refuge, where he may be hidden in secret until he groweth to manhood and is able to guard himself from such dangers as may threaten him.

That passage was on the second page, and I started to worry, not only that the boys might find the language difficult to understand, but that I would struggle to read it confidently!  As it turned out, they had no problem with it, saying it made the stories more interesting.  They were patient with me whenever I stumbled over some of the text.  Though I wish I’d managed to get a version with Pyle’s illustrations.

Orginally published in 1903

'A Knight'

'Sir Kay breaketh his sword'

Born in March 1853 in Wilmington, Delaware, Howard Pyle would grow to become not only one of America’s foremost illustrators, but a well-known author of books, mainly for young children.

At school he was interested in drawing and writing, and his mother encouraged him to study art.  Even then, his entire art training consisted of only 3 years at the studio of FA Van de Weilen in Philadelphia, and a few lessons at the Art Students League of New York.  After submitting an article about the island of Chincoteague to ‘ Scribner’s Monthly’, which he’d written and illustrated, one of the magazine’s owners persuaded him to move to New York to be a professional illustrator.

To begin with, he struggled in New York because of his lack of professional experience, but he was encouraged by other working artists, including Edwin Austin Abbey, known for his famous set of murals, ‘The Quest of the Holy Grail’. 

In March 1878, Howard Pyle finally published a double-page spread in ‘Harper’s Weekly’, after which his success grew.  He returned to Wilmington in 1880, an established artist.

'The Landing of the Pilgrims' (1882)

'The Awakening of Brunhild' (1882) - from 'The Story of Siegfried' by James Baldwin

In April 1881, he married the singer, Anne Poole, with whom he would have 7 children.

Anne Poole Pyle and children at Rehoboth Beach (1890) -  taken by Howard Pyle

Apart from collaborating on American history books, Pyle also wrote and illustrated his own stories, the first being ‘ The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood’ (1883).  The book won international acclaim.  Pyle took many of the Robin Hood legends and ballads, and integrated them into a unified story; he also toned them down to make them suitable for children.  For example, in the ballad, ‘ Robin Hood’s Progress to Nottingham’, Robin killed 14 foresters for not honouring a bet; in Pyle’s version, Robin defends himself against a band of armed robbers, and kills 1 man in self-defence.  Also, by including ‘ The Adventure with the Curtal Friar’ in the narrative, he reintroduced Friar Tuck, one of several characters who was developed beyond a single mention in one ballad or tale.

Robin Hood

Tragedy struck the family in 1889, while Pyle and Anne were in Jamaica.  Their children had been left in the care of relatives; sadly, one of their sons died unexpectedly.

From 1894 to 1900, Pyle taught illustration at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry (now Drexel University).  In 1900, he founded his own school of art, named the Howard Pyle School of Illustration Art.  His students, who would go on to find fame themselves, included NC Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, Elenore Abbot, Jessie Wilcox Smith and Allen Tupper True.  The studio and Pyle’s home in Wilmington are still standing today.

With mural painting being a popular form of public art, Pyle painted ‘ The Battle of Nashville’, which hangs in the Minnesota State Capitol, and murals for courthouses in New Jersey.

'The Battle of Nashville' (1906)

Howard Pyle working on 'The Battle of Nashville'

In 1910, despite suffering poor health, Pyle travelled to Italy with his family to study the old masters.  After barely one year, he died in Florence in November 1911 of a sudden kidney infection; he was 58.

Howard Pyle is credited with creating the flamboyantly-dressed pirate that we are now used to seeing.  With few actual examples or drawings of authentic pirate dress to draw from, Pyle came up with his own idea, creating a style that incorporated elements of gypsy dress.  

'The Buccaneer was a Picturesque Fellow' (1905)

Widely respected during his life, he is still held in high regard today.  In a letter to his brother, Theo, Vincent van Gogh, wrote that Pyle’s work “… struck me dumb with admiration”.

'Walking the Plank' (1887)

'Deianeira and the dying centaur Nesses' (sketch 1888)

'In The Wood Carver's Shop' (1895)

'Malvern Hill' (1896)

'Peractum Est' (1897)

'The Attack Upon the Chew House' (1898)

'The Battle of Bunker's Hill' (1898)

'Taking Over A City'

'Dead Men Tell No Tales' (1899)

'Guarded By Rough English Soldiers' (1904) - Joan of Arc

'Attack On The Galleon' (1905)

'Mellicent Stood Motionless ...' (1905) - from 'Mellicent'

'Why Seek Ye The Living' (1905)

'The Mermaid' (1910)

The Sunday Section: Art - Arthur Rackham

As it’s been a couple of months since I featured an artist, time to continue methinks.  I can’t remember the first Arthur Rackham illustration I saw but I do remember that I fell in love with his style immediately.

(self-portrait 1934)

Arthur Rackham was born in September 1867, in Lewisham, one of 12 children.  In an effort to improve his fragile health, he was sent to Australia when he was 17, in the company of two aunts.  It is not noted when he returned but he did finish his education at the City of London School, after which he began working as a clerk at an insurance agency.  At the same time, he also attended Lambeth College of Art.

In Derek Hudson’s ‘Arthur Rackham, His Life and Work’, Rackham is quoted describing this time in his life:

… for the next seven years or so I worked as hard as I could out of business hours (9-5) to equip myself as an artist … not being able to embark on a professional career till I was nearly 25, and then for many years getting the barest living from my profession and having to do much distasteful hack work.

The “distasteful hack work” he referred to was his job as illustrator for popular newspapers, which he did until the early 1890s.  In 1892, he left his job to work as a reporter and illustrator for the ‘Westminster Budget’.  His first book illustrations were published in 1893 and, soon after, he would concentrate on book illustrating as his chosen career.

In the late 1890s, Rackham began steadily producing illustrations for volumes including ‘The Ingoldsby Legends’ in 1898, ‘Tales from Shakespeare’ in 1899, and ‘Tales of the Brothers Grimm’ in 1900.


'Fairy Dance'

'Little Miss Muffet'

'Sleeping Beauty'

'The Frog Prince'

'The Goblin Market'

In 1900 Rackham met the woman who would become his wife, Edyth Starkie; she lived next door to his Hampstead studio.  She, too, was an artist with a growing reputation as a portrait painter.  She “brought out the best in Rackham; for she was always his most stimulating, severest critic, and he had the greatest respect for her opinion.” (Hudson’s ‘Arthur Rackham, His Life and Work’) In 1903, Rackham and Edyth Starkie married.  Their only child, Barbara, was born in 1908.

Before he met Edyth, Rackham’s drawings were mainly of pen and India ink.  But she helped him mature as an artist by teaching him to use colour, especially watercolour, more effectively.  This couldn’t have occurred at a more favourable time as it coincided with technological advances, which improved the quality of book illustrations – pictures could be photographed and mechanically reproduced.  Rackham would start drawing with a soft pencil then work over it in lines of pen and India ink, gradually removing the pencil traces.  For colour pictures he would use multiple thin washes of watercolour to build up the painting, creating translucent tints.  The new printing technique added to costs as it required the use of glazed paper that had to be pasted in after the text was printed.  Publications that used this type of printing were more expensive but “the result enhanced the appearance of books and helped create the early twentieth-century market for gift-books”. (Central Michigan University Library)

In 1905, Rackham’s reputation grew with the publication of Washington Irving’s ‘Rip Van Winkle’.  He decided to promote the book by exhibiting his original paintings at the Leicester Galleries in London.  He not only helped to successfully promote the book, he also earned extra income selling the original artwork, making him one of the most highly paid illustrators of the era.

(first edition)

Rip Van Winkle

One of the visitors to the ‘Rip Van Winkle’ exhibition was JM Barrie.  So taken was he with Rackham’s work that he arranged a meeting to discuss collaboration on a Peter Pan book.  The result – ‘Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens’ – became the “outstanding Christmas gift-book of 1906” (Hudson), and was one of Rackham’s biggest financial successes.

Peter Pan in a bird's nest

The fairies have their tiff with the birds

In 1906, the Rackham family lived in Chalcot Gardens until they moved to Houghton, West Sussex, in 1920.  In 1929, they settled in Limpsfield, Surrey.

In 1906, Rackham won a gold medal at the Milan International Exhibition, and again, in 1912, at the Barcelona International Exposition.  He exhibited regularly, including at the Louvre in Paris in 1914.

Well-established as the pre-eminent illustrator in Britain, Rackham had to continuously turn down commissions as he was regularly fully booked.  The one he regretted most was having to decline Kenneth Grahame’s invitation to illustrate the first edition of ‘The Wind in the Willows’; his time was already taken with working on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.  Published in 1908, it is considered probably his greatest work.



In 1907, the original copyright for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ expired, resulting in a number of publishing firms planning new editions.  Although Rackham’s version was popular, there were those who believed that to have any other illustration other than that of John Tenniel just would not do.  Despite this, the book with Rackham’s illustrations proved to be successful.

'Alice in Wonderland'

The Pool of Tears

In 1936, Rackham got another chance to illustrate a version of ‘The Wind in the Willows’.  Thirty years previous, when he’d declined Grahame’s invitation to illustrate it, the book had been published without illustrations until 1931.  Despite his failing health, Rackham seized this unexpected opportunity.  The last illustration he ever did was of Mole and Rat loading their boat for the picnic.

(Rackham's final illustration)

Arthur Rackham died of cancer in September 1939, at his home.



The following are from 'The Ring of the Nibelung':

The Rhine Maidens tease Alberich the dwarf

The giants, Fasolt and Fafner, take Freya hostage to make Wotan pay them what they are due

Siegmund and Sigelinde


Brunhilde searching for Siegmund

The Valkyries

Wotan descends, enraged

Wotan puts Brunhilde to sleep surrounded by Loge's magic fire

The dwarf, Mime, and Siegfried, the child of Siegmund and Sigelinde

Siegfried slays the dragon, Fafner

Waltraute confronts Brunhilde

Siegfried and Gutrune