The Eve of St. Agnes: "They glide like phantoms, into the wide hall"

Edwin Austin Abbey

The Eve of St. Agnes: "They glide like phantoms, into the wide hall"


Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911)




Ink wash and Chinese white on cream wove paper


17 3/8 x 9 3/16 in. (44.1452 x 23.3426 cm.)

Accession #:


Credit Line:

John S. Phillips Fund


A native Philadelphian, Abbey received his early art training from the Pennsylvania Academy before gaining a worldwide reputation for his illustrations. In the late 1870s, Abbey left America to become a highly successful history painter in England. Although an expatriate, Abbey was nonetheless an integral figure in the late nineteenth-century "Golden Age" of American mural painting. Abbey's murals adorn the Pennsylvania State Capital in Harrisburg and the Boston Public Library, which houses his best-known work, the epic mural "Quest for the Holy Grail."

Abbey frequently turned to literature for subject matter and inspiration. Often these literary images were commissioned illustrations, and Abbey created the series from which this image is taken for "Harper's Weekly," the publication with which Abbey began his career as an illustrator in the 1870s. "The Eve of Saint Agnes" series illustrates a poem of the same name by the English poet John Keats. Keats's poem, stemming from the old legend that a maiden who prayed to Saint Agnes on the eve of her feast day would dream about her future husband, tells the story of two young lovers from feuding families, Madeline and Porphyro. This image depicts the climatic moment in the lovers' flight when they encounter a drunken guard and a vigilant watchdog. The allusions to medieval subjects and artistic styles reflect the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite artists whose work Abbey admired after he settled in England.