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Thomas Hovenden (1840 - 1895) was born in County Cork, Ireland. For a year he worked coloring photos and building and gilding frames before attending the National Academy of Design. Hovenden left for Paris in 1874 where he studied under Jules Breton and Alexandre Cabanal and lived in the artist colony at Pont-Aven. An exceptionally generous man, Hovenden was well liked by his contemporaries. His work was almost always narrative and anecdotal, drawing from history, literature, and contemporary events. Hovenden's paintings, primarily interior genre scenes, were revered for their naturalism and attention to detail as well as their ability to stir deep emotions in viewers. In 1886 Hovenden became an instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts replacing Thomas Eakins. Unfortunately, Hovenden's influences on future artists as well as his own artistic output was cut short. He died tragically near his home in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania in a train accident.
Hovenden used himself and his wife as models for his painting, Death of Elaine, as can be seen in the similarity of King Arthur's and Lancelot's features, which are self portraits, and in the figures of Queen Quinevere and Elaine for which his wife modeled. The painting is an ambitious one with an elaborate "stage set" detailed with arches, chandeliers, rich draperies and marble to serve as backdrop to the figures. The story is from the Arthurian legends and tells the tale of the young woman, Elaine, who dies from her unrequited love for Lancelot who cannot return her affections due to his preoccupation with Arthur's queen. The complicated story is told in the gaze of Lancelot to Quinevere and Quinevere to the lifeless body of Elaine. The museum acquired a drawing after this painting which was made by Hovenden when the piece won an award at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1882. The drawing was used to illustrate the painting in the catalog of that year.