While still an adolescent, Elihu Vedder left New York and traveled with his family to the Caribbean, where he determined to be an artist. He journeyed to France in 1856 to study painting with Francois Edouard Picot; while in Europe he traveled in Italy and began a lifelong fascination with its art and landscape. Vedder returned to New York prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and tried to complete sketches for Vanity Fair while trying to succeed as an artist.
By 1865 he had finished some of the paintings that would bring him critical acclaim. Appleton’s Journal states that Vedder’s Egyptian "Sphinx" and "Sea Serpent" was "the talk in art circles," and characterizes his work as "striking and original," though lacking in finish (“Brief Notes” 155). In 1869 Vedder married Caroline Beach Rosekrans with whom he had three children, and though he frequently visited and exhibited in America, he relocated to Italy, maintaining homes in Rome and Capri. One of his most well-known endeavors is his illustration of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; Vedder composed a series of fifty intricate drawings which were exhibited in Boston in 1887 and are now held by the Smithsonian.
Vedder published his autobiographical ruminations as The Digressions of V (1910). In this work, Vedder discusses his connection to the Pfaffian group. He describes that he became part of the group because the people with whom he lived in the 10th Street Studio often went to Pfaff's, saying "As every question started in the Studio ended with, ‘Let’s go over to Pfaff’s,’ I became for a time one of the Pfaff crowd of the Bohemians, as they were then called.” The commentary in his autobiography also includes a description of the establishment writing that “Pfaff’s was situated in a basement, and the room under the sidewalk was the den where writers and artists -- the latter mostly drawers on wood but not drinkers of water -- met.” In frequenting Pfaff's, Vedder also met Walt Whitman who he noted "had not become famous yet, and I then regarded many of the [Pfaff's] Boys as his superiors, as they did themselves" (226).
From painting and illustrating, Vedder turned to mural work and fulfilled a commission at the Library of Congress in 1896-97. His mural, Government, on the walls of the library "represents the abstract conception of a republic as the ideal state" (Library of Congress). His mural work also appears in Bowdoin College’s Walker Art Building on the west wall (1894) and on the ceiling of the Collis P. Huntington mansion in New York (W. Downes, “Elihu Vedder”). His paintings hang in galleries, colleges, and museums across the country including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Institute, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Cornell University, Brigham Young University, Wellesley College, and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (Downes). He may have written his own epitaph on the dedication page of Digressions of V, characterizing himself as "[s]ome what o’ershadowed by great names... His aims if any are but these,--To be remembered and to please" (Vedder). He died in Rome in 1923.
Figaro recollects a discussion of art with Vedder (73).[pages:73]
Vedder is mentioned as a friend of Whitman.[pages:60]
The author mentions that Vedder and Whitman became acquainted during the late 1850s, but does not specifically identify Pfaff's as the location of their meeting.
Vedder is cited as saying that in the 1850s Whitman "had not become famous yet, and I then regarded many of the [Bohemian] boys as his superiors, as they did themselves."
Vedder is mentioned by Parry as one of the frequenters of the Tile Club in the 1880s.[pages:65]
Talks about trying to make a living drawing for Vanity Fair (198).
Joined the Athenaeum club in NYC (201).
Describes about Ned Mullin: “Mullin was ‘a holy terror’ --- at least so he was described by good little Miss Van Dusen with whom he once boarded...He was anything but neat, except in the matter of whiskey: he always took that neat. For one who treated himself so generously to that article, he was singularly abstemious / with regard to his friends, for his never treated any one but once, and that happened in this way” (218-9); “If Mullin treated himself well to whiskey, he treated himself badly enough in other respects, judging by his appearance when he turned up after an absence. He was frequently absent” (219); “How he died or when he died I never knew. He simply faded out of my life; yet I would very much like to hunt up in the pages of ‘Vanity Fair’ those forgotten gems of his” (220).
Describes Mullin meeting Winslow Homer, another Pfaffian: “Mullin, meeting that best of painters, Winslow Homer, was asked by the latter if he would have a drink. This jumping with Mullin’s usual mood, he accepted at once. Homer then explained that he had tickets for drinks at Hanbury Smith’s, which was then the very fountain-head of mineral waters in Broadway. Mullin, who never drank water, took Saratoga High Rock, as he told me himself, and it gave him the stomach-ache, but he said nothing and bided his time. It came. He met H., and inviting him to take a drink, led him to an apothecary’s, where he said to the clerk: ‘My friend wants a drink. Will you please give him a drink of --- castor oil” (219).
Describes encounter between Mullin and Fitz Hugh O’Brien: “Once when Mullin was eating (he never dined) with Fitz Hugh O’Brien, the latter said to the waiter, asking him to bring him a plate for his bones. This was too much for the democratic Mullin. ‘A plate for your bones, forsooth! -- What frills be these? -- since when, I pray?’ (219).
Describes where he lived when he frequented Pfaff’s: “The room my good stepmother found for me were on the corner of Bond Street and Broadway, and therefore near Pfaff’s” (226).
On becoming part of the Pfaff’s crowd: “As every question started in the Studio ended with, ‘Let’s go over to Pfaff’s,’ I became for a time one of the Pfaff crowd of the Bohemians, as they were then called” (226).
Description of Pfaff’s: “Pfaff’s was situated in a basement, and the room under the sidewalk was the den where writers and artists -- the latter mostly drawers on wood but not drinkers of water -- met” (226).
On Whitman at Pfaff’s: “There I saw Walt Whitman: he had not become famous yet, and I then regarded many of the Boys as his superiors, as they did themselves” (226).
On Pfaff, the owner: “I really believe Pfaff himself loved the Boys. The time came when he retired to the country, well off but then the time also came when he returned and started another place further up-town. I saw him in his new place and asked him about it. He said he was well off, but that he could not stand the country; he had to do something; but then he said, ‘It is n’t the same thing; dere’s no more poys left enny more.’” (226).
On George Arnold: “George Arnold was one of the Boys. He lived near me and used frequently to come and sit by me while I was painting” (227); “I can recall his gentle, sad smile yet. Gentleness was his great charm. We both lived near Pfaff’s, and it was there he read me his poem, shortly after it was written -- ‘Here I sit drinking my beer’” (228); “He died young; I do not know of what he died, but he seemed to be worn out even when I first met him. All the Boys attended his funeral; there was but one woman. Who she was and what she was made it all the more touching; her grief was honest and sincere” (228); “He thought his life a wasted life; it was with him a gorgeous romance of youthful despair; but into that grave went a tender charm, great talent, and great weakness” (228).
Talks about Henry Clapp (232).
On Homer Martin:“What cosy studio and tavern times I have had with Homer Martin. He was a Bohemian if you will (240).[pages:FP(ill.), 191(ill.), 335(ill.), 385(ill.)]
Winter mentions that Vedder was a member Eytinge's "circle of artistic companionship." Winter gives Vedder's current whereabouts as Capri, Italy, in the "Tower of the Four Winds" (319).[pages:319]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015