Exhibition Details


Location: Harnett Gallery
Dates: November 15, 2008
to February 8, 2009

Overview

Organized by The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the exhibition showcases 54 complex drawings made by artist Elihu Vedder to accompany Omar Khayyám’s classic 12th century Persian poem, the Rubáiyát. The combination of Vedder’s hauntingly beautiful images with Khayyám’s profound poems resulted in one of the most popular books ever published, a publication that made Vedder famous and revolutionized the publishing industry.

From the moment of its publication, Elihu Vedder's Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám achieved unparalleled success. Released in 1884, the first edition sold out in six days. Critics rushed to acclaim it as a masterwork of American art, and Vedder as the master American artist. Vedder created designs for the entire book -- its cover and lining paper, its compelling drawings, and its eccentric hand-drawn letters. Made with ink, chalk, pencil and watercolor, the highly imaginative, dream-like illustrations provide an early example of the swirling, curvilinear Art Nouveau style.

The Rubáiyát (the plural form of quatrain, or a verse unit of four lines) was written around 1120 by the Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet Omar Khayyám. He left upwards of 1,000 epigrams on the transience of existence and the uselessness of mathematics, science, or religion to untangle the knotted meaning of life. In the mid-nineteenth century Edward FitzGerald created the first English edition by translating 75 quatrains from various Persian manuscripts of the Rubáiyát. Although FitzGerald's edition of the Rubáiyát, which appeared anonymously in 1859, was a commercial failure, the poem was embraced by young Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and aesthetic-movement writers including Algernon Swinburne. In England and America, the slim volume was handed from artist to artist, and it served as a touchstone for the spiritual and poetic in a time of strident materialism.

Drawings for the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám features the entire set of Vedder’s original illustrations with the exhibition of a small publisher’s mark. The Cup of Death, 1885-1911,Vedder’s mystical oil painting inspired by one of his Rubáiyát drawings, is also included.

The exhibition marks the fist time this collection of works has been shown in the Southwest.

Find out more by visiting the Smithsonian's dedicated web resource or reading a brief article

by the

New York Times.

Image Credits

Left: Vain Questioning (Illustration for Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám), Elihu Vedder, 1883-84. Chalk, pencil, ink, and watercolor on paper. Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1978. Center: Cover Illustration for Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Elihu Vedder, 1883-84. Chalk, pencil, ink, and watercolor on paper. Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1978. Right: The Soul's Answer (Illustration for Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám), Elihu Vedder, 1883-84. Chalk, pencil, ink, and watercolor on paper. Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1978.

Elihu Vedder's Drawings for the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is organized and circulated by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibition's tour is supported in part by the C.F. Foundation, Atlanta and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Endowment Fund. Local support generously provided by Robert and Joan Cremin, Meridian Bank and Roswell Bookbinding.

Promotional support for this exhibition’s presentation has been provided by Westcor Shopping Centers, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Latino Future Magazine, Yelp.com and Scottsdale, Glendale, Mesa, Chandler, and Phoenix Public Libraries.