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Elenore Plaisted Abbott: a biography of an artist


Example of a New Woman

Elenore Plaisted Abbott was illustrator of fairy tales books, numerous magazines, poetry collections and juvenile fiction. She was also a landscape and portrait painter and a designer of scenes for Hedgerow Theater.

While her name is today not so famous as the names of some of her contemporaries, we can't deny her huge talent and important role in the artistic movement which eventually produced the so called New Woman, a lady freed from Victorian limitations, which was free spirited, able to live and support by herself and be even competitive in painting and illustration, artistic area traditionally dominated by men. The field of illustration was actually one of the first business areas, where some women managed to earn more than men!

This movement, started in circles of female artists on the East coast of USA eventually led to completely new role of women in society, including voting and other civil rights. But this is not the point of this article. We will try to present Elenore Abbott's biography and her finest works, illustrations from the beginning of 20th century.

Introductory image is from Louisa May Alcott's novel Old Fashioned Girl (Little, Brown, and Company, 1911). All presented images, including the one from The Beauty and the Beast on Amazon below are in public domain because they were published before 1923 and Mrs Abbott died more than 70 years ago.

Collectible book can make a perfect gift

Although Elenore Plaisted Abbott's work is not in high demand at the moment (things can change fast), true lovers of vintage illustration very much appreciate first editions of books with her illustrations. If you can find one in good condition, you can use it as a great gift which can last through generations.

Elenore Plaisted Abbott's education and work

Cinderella by a magic tree - Grimms' version

Cinderella by a magic tree - Grimms' version

Elenore Abbott's posters

She was born in 1875 in Lincoln, Maine, and studied art at School of Design for Women, Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. She also got brief education in Paris before she returned in Philadelphia to attend classes at Drexel Institute, established and run by famous Howard Pyle, sometimes called a father of American illustration. This means, with the exception of Paris, she was moving at the same circles as Jessie Wilcox Smith and several other talented artists who are now considered as main contributors of Golden era of American illustration.

Elenor Abbot's style is typical Art Nouveau (similar to Anne Anderson), with strong black lines, lively colors and many details. She managed to stay sensible and romantic without becoming sentimental what ultimately gave her an opportunity to illustrate classic fairy tales and adventures which were originally aiming at older audience but were later adapted to younger and sensitive audience. As a Pyle's student she had a privilege not only to learn from one of the best art teachers, but also to sent her works to influential publishers as completely unknown name, because his covering letters, signed by Pyle, were able to open many doors.

She exhibited in Philadelphia and Paris, illustrated for Saturday Evening Post, Harper's and Scribner's, illustrated collections by H. C. Andersen, and works of Louisa May Alcott, Daniel Defoe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewiss Carroll and other major authors.

The gallery bellow is from edition of Fairy Tales by brothers Grimm, published in 1920 by Charles Scribner's Sons.

Which do you prefer?

Yarnall's illustration of Madame Butterfly

Yarnall's illustration of Madame Butterfly

Her private life

Elenor Plaisted met her future husband C. Yarnall Abbott (1870-1938) at Drexel institute where he enrolled in art classes just like her.

He was initially a lawyer but stopped his practices after a decade to become an artist. In his lifetime he was considered as maybe the best amateur photographer in the country but painting was his major love and he mostly used photography to take pictures after which he later made oil paintings.

This kind of approach was quite common among painter and illustrators and his wife used it as well. We should not forget they lived in times of huge technological progress and every technical novelty was used in all aspects of life. Photography, for instance, didn't change only way of work for painters and illustrators, it became a form of art on its own, and it of course transformed the printing process - improved quality and lowered price, so books became not only more attractive, but also more available to the ordinary people.

They settled in Philadelphia, where they had a house with two separate studios (he designed a house), so they could work at the same time without distracting each other, just like their contemporary in England Arthur Rackham worked with his wife.

The Abbots had one daughter, named Marjorie "Peggy" (after Elenore's sister), and when her sister died, they adopted her two daughters named Sonya and Elenore.

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All three kids were frequently used as models for illustrations. Young Marjorie later became very successful author of cookbooks.

Although Yarnall is not so well-known as his wife, he regularly exhibited his paintings and was active member of several art associations. He also wrote for magazines and even published articles in Encyclopedia Britannica.

Major works of Elenore Plaisted Abbott for children

She illustrated many important books, so this list should not be considered as a complete reference, but rather as a selection of major works:

- Fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen.

- Short stories and novellas by Robert Louis Stevenson.

- Tales by Edward Childs Carpenter.

- Novella by Daniel Defoe.

- Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

She also made several watercolor paintings and contributed to numerous magazines.

- Stories by Louisa May Alcott.


All used images are in public domain due facts of creation (before 1923) and death of the artist (more than 70 years ago), text is copyrighted by Tolovaj Publishing, Ljubljana.

  • Grimms' Fairy Tales by Elenore Abbott
    All the images from Grimms' Fairy Tales by Elenore Plaisted Abbott with short summaries of the specific fairy tales (in Slovene language). considering the influence of Grimms' fairy tales, definitely an important book of every illustrator.
  • Vintage illustrations
    Vintage illustrations of picture books and other illustrated works for children. Each illustrator is presented with only one illustration and few interesting facts from his or her life and work.

Was the name of Elenore Abbott new to you?

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on January 19, 2017:

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous on April 21, 2016:

No, I have heard about her in my art class. I just wish there was much more information about her artwork and childhood. I hope you understand. Thank You.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on July 06, 2014:

@WriterJanis2: Thanks for your visit anyway, it was just republished, so the button was probably invisible ...

WriterJanis2 on July 05, 2014:

Yes, the name is new to me and I can't find the like button on this post. :-(.

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