Acquired from Anita Vedder (artist's daughter) by Macbeth Gallery, New York, New York1911
Acquired by J. W. Young, Chicago, Illinois,1912
Acquired by Edwin C. Shaw, Akron, Ohio, 1922
Bequest to Akron Art Institute (Museum), 1955
2004 - 2006: "American Impressions: An Arcadian Vision: Paintings from the Akron Art Museum" Organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions and Akron Art Museum: Tour
4/8/04 - 6/6/04, The Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, Florida
9/17/04 - 11/28/04, University Art Museum, Lafayette, Louisiana
12/18/04 - 2/27/05, Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala, Florida
3/12/05 - 5/22/05, Fresno Metropolitan Museum, Fresno, California
6/4/05 - 9/5/05, The Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, New York
10/8/05 - 12/4/05, Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee
12/16/05 - 3/12/06, Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio
2003: "In a Romantic Mood: American Impressionists and Their Era" 6/14/03 - 8/24/03, Akron Art Museum
1997 - 1998: "A 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 11/15/97 - 1/11/98, Akron Art Museum
1995: "A Legacy of Beauty: Paintings and Prints from the Edwin C. Shaw Bequest" 6/17/95 - 8/27/95, Akron Art Museum
1992: "A Nation's Legacy: 150 Years of American Art from Ohio Collections" tour, organized by the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio
1/19/92 - 3/15/92, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio
4/9/92 - 5/5/92, The Isetan Museum, Tokyo, Japan
5/12/92 - 6/21/92, The Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art, Yamaguchi, Japan
6/27/92 - 8/2/92, The Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art, Fukushima, Japan
8/7/92 - 9/6/92, The Takamatsu City Museum of Art, Takamatsu, Japan
9/23/92 - 10/5/92, Daimaru Museum, Umeda, Osaka, Japan
1986-1987: "The Human Presence" 11/1/86 - 5/10/87, Akron Art Museum
1986: "The Edwin C. Shaw Collection of American Impressionist and Tonalist Painting" 4/19/86-6/29/86, Akron Art Museum
1978 - 1979: "Perceptions and Evocations: The Art of Elihu Vedder" tour, Organized by the National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC
10/13/78 - 1/1/79, National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC
5/12/79 - 7/8/79, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York
1976: "Edwin Coupland Shaw Collection of American Paintings, Romanticism and Impressionism" 3/8/76 - 5/5/76, Federal Reserve Board, Washington, DC
1955: "The Edwin C. Shaw Collection of Paintings" 10/11/55 - 11/23/55, Akron Art Institute (Museum) (No. 28)
Signed UL: "Vedder 1879 83"
The Sleeping Girl, 1879
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
One of the few portrait heads that Elihu Vedder painted, The Sleeping Girl conveys the same exotic, erotic, and enigmatic aura that distinguishes all of this visionary artist's work. Despite its gentle title suggesting a state of peaceful slumber, this painting alludes to other themes that pervaded Vedder’s art: an existential inquiry into the meaning of life and death and an exploration of the schism between sentient and unconscious states.
Though he possessed a great sense of humor and a zest for living, Vedder—who lost two sons to untimely deaths—was haunted by "the hopelessness of man before the immutable laws of nature."1 Perhaps in reaction to this belief he created an almost metaphysical world in his art, in which allegory, symbolism, mysticism, and the grotesque coexist. Born and raised in Manhattan, Vedder lived primarily in Rome for nearly sixty years. His interest in far-off lands and foreign cultures may have been sparked by the extended periods he spent as a child in Cuba, where his father worked as a dentist. The hot climate, warm colors, exotic fruits, and languorous way of life seems to have had a profound effect on the young artist.
The outcome was a fantastic sensibility atypical for the time. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Vedder had a distinguished career as a fine artist, illustrator, poet, and designer of decorative arts. His training encompassed both classical and realist influences. He studied briefly in Paris before settling in Florence to study antique and Renaissance art. By the late 1850s he was painting landscapes outdoors with a group of artists known as the Macchiaioli (an Italian equivalent of the French Barbizon school).
Throughout the 1870s, Vedder painted many "ideal heads," as he called his stylized female figures from this period. They did not represent an ideal in the classical sense but rather expressed an otherworldly beauty. The Sleeping Girl belongs to a tiny subgroup of these images, one which concentrates more on portraiture than allegorical content. The vast majority were drawn not from a living model but from the artist's imagination.
Many of Vedder's paintings appear to be conjured visions—the products of his tragic and romantic imagination—but it is known that he painted The Sleeping Girl from a living model. The artist's daughter recalled: "The girl was a very beautiful young Italian girl called 'Ginditta,' who was living with us as a kind of nursery maid. . . . Father says she could not pose as she always fell asleep, so he ended by painting her that way."2
Even though The Sleeping Girl was painted from life, this is not quite a realistic depiction. Vedder chose to garb his subject in a Renaissance costume and give her an ambiguous pose (is she alive or dead?). These few clues hint at some indecipherable allegorical meaning within the painting. Though Vedder was obsessed with death, he did not view it as a negative condition. Rather, he believed that the end of consciousness signals a transition in which the soul is awakened for eternity.
- Jeffrey Grove, 2001
1. Letter from Vedder to unknown woman, September 7, 1884, Venice; Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Vedder roll no. 8, frames 936–39. The original letter is in the Century Collection of Manuscripts of the New York Public Library.
2. Letter from Anita Vedder to Edwin C. Shaw, dated June 6, 1922, Edwin C. Shaw Papers, Akron Art Museum archives.
National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution. Perceptions and Evocation: The Art of Elihu Vedder. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1978.
Soria, Regina. Elihu Vedder: American Visionary Artist in Rome (1836–1923). Cranbury, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1970.
Vedder, Elihu. The Digressions of V. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1920.