About This Artwork

Toby Edward Rosenthal
American, 1848–1917

Elaine, 1874

Oil on canvas
97.9 x 158.8 cm (38 9/16 x 62 1/2 in.)
Signed, lower right: "Toby E. Rosenthal Munich. 1874"

Gift of Mrs. Maurice Rosenfeld, 1917.3

Toby Edward Rosenthal found inspiration for this composition in Idylls of the King, a 19th-century version of the Arthurian legends written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In the poem, Elaine dies of a broken heart after being spurned by Sir Lancelot; Rosenthal’s painting depicts Elaine’s postmortem voyage from Astolat to Camelot: “In her right hand the lily, in her left / The letter—all her bright hair streaming down.” Rosenthal’s artistic choices reflect the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of English artists who favored highly naturalistic details, richly colored surfaces, and subjects drawn from medieval literary sources. After it was purchased by an American patron, Rosenthal’s work sparked Elaine hysteria: clubs were formed in her honor, dirges and waltzes were composed, and copies of Idylls of the King sold out in bookstores.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Berlin, Germany, Konigliche Academie der Kunst, "Verzeichnisse der Werke lebender kunstler ausgestellt in den Salen des Konig," September 6-November 1, 1874, no. 669.

Boston, Elilot, Blakeslee & Noyes Gallery, January-February 1875.

San Francisco, Snow and May Gallery, March 30-April 10, 1875.

Philadelphia, "Centennial Exhibition of 1876," 1876, no. 177.

San Francisco, Snow & Company, March 1885.

College of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, "Paintings from the Nickerson Collection, Extended Loan," Dec. 20, 1920 - Nov. 22, 1949.

Evanston, Illinois, Scott Hall, Northwestern University, April 2-9, 1954.

Cincinnati Art Museum, "Munich & American Realism in the 19th Century," April 20-May 28, 1978; traveled to Milwaukee Art Center, July 13-August 27, 1978; Sacramento, E.B. Crocker Art Gallery, October 28-December 10, 1978.

Detroit Institute of Arts, "The Quest for Unity: American Art between World's Fairs, 1876-1893," August 22-October 30, 1983, cat. 11.

Publication History

Walt M. Fisher, "Toby Rosenthal: How He Became a Painter," Overland Monthly 14, 3 (March 1875) pp. 284-87.

Charles W. Stoddard, "A Note from Abroad," Overland Monthly 15, 6 (December 1875) p. 589.

Benjamin E. Lloyd, "Light and Shades of San Francisco" (Bancroft & Co., 1876) pp. 416-19.

unknown, "The Jew in San Francisco: the Last Half of the Century," Overland Monthly, 25 (April 1895) pp. 381-410.

Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, IV (October 1910) p. 27.

Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, XI (February 1917) pp. 272, 278.

Eugene Neuhaus, "The History and Ideals of American Art" (Stanford University Press, 1931) pp. 154-55.

Gene Hailey, ed. "California Art Research"
(1936-37) vol. 3.

William M. Kramer and Norton B. Stern, "The Great "Elaine" Robbery: The Crime Against Civilization," Journal of the West, 10, 4 (October 1971) pp.585-95.

William M. Kramer and Norton B. Stern, "Toby E. Rosenthal: San Francisco's Artist" (Santa Susana Press, 1978).

Ownership History

The artist, Munich, Germany, 1874; sold by him to Mrs. Robert C. Johnson, San Francisco, fall 1874; sold to Mr. Boardman, New York, New York, c. 1885; sold to Mr. Joseph Rosenberg, Heidelberg, Germany, May 1887; sold to Mrs. Maurice Rosenfeld, Chicago, c. 1891; given by her to the Art Institute, 1917.

Interpretive Resources

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