Toby Edward Rosenthal, Elaine

The Art Institute of Chicago

Date: 1874
Technique: Oil on canvas, 97.9 x 158.8 cm

American expatriate Toby Rosenthal painted grand narrative pictures with historical, mythological, and romantic themes that gained him international fame. Perhaps his biggest hit was Elaine, a picture based on Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. In keeping with Tennyson’s epic poem about unrequited love, the painting depicts a grim boatman ferrying the body of Elaine to Camelot, a love letter to Lancelot clutched to her chest. The work struck a chord with its viewers, creating a frenzy nationwide. In 1875, more than a thousand people a day lined up in front of a San Francisco art gallery to pay a 25-cent admission charge to view the picture. Before long “Elaine clubs” had sprung up and even an Elaine waltz was created.

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