Edwin Austin Abbey, born in Philadelphia, began his training as an artist under Isaac Williams, a portrait and landscape painter. By the age of 14, Abbey had moved to New York, taking a full-time position drawing for Harper and Brothers, the publisher of a news weekly, a literary monthly, and books. In 1878, Harper's sent him to England to do background research for an edition of Robert Herrick's poetry. Every year thereafter he made trips to the European continent or England, where he finally settled in 1882. The principle monuments of his career are his murals, Quest for the Holy Grail (1890-1902, Boston Public Library), The Coronation of Edward VII (1902-1904, Buckingham Palace), and the decorations of the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg which, unfinished at his death in 1911, were completed by Sargent. Two of his principal oil paintings were May Day Morning (1890, Yale University Art Gallery), his well-received first Royal Academy entry, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and the Lady Anne (1896, Yale University Art Gallery), which was based on a scene in Shakespeare's Richard III.
Edwin Abbey was a man whose facility for illustration subverted his potential and reputation as a fine artist. A major portion of his career was spent in the fulfillment of illustration and mural commissions. He was fascinated by medieval England and English literature, and was lucky to have an equally interested public. Because of his affiliation with Harper's, Abbey's audience was large. Abbey's career was driven more by his imagination of historic events than by his direct observation of the light and life around him, for he surely had sufficient ability to place him among the best of his contemporaries. In choosing to be an illustrator of medieval life he satisfied a personal and public interest, rather than breaking new ground as an observer or technician.