Sadakichi Hartmann called Edwin Austin Abbey "a virtuoso of penmanship, one of the greatest pen-and-ink artists that ever lived." Joseph Pennell thought him "the greatest American illustrator." Indeed, Abbey was an extraordinarily popular artist and a key figure in the flowering of American illustration that took place in the 1870s.
After working as an apprentice wood-engraver for a publisher in his native Philadelphia, Abbey joined the staff of Harper and Brothers in 1870 and soon became the firm's leading illustrator. He settled in England after 1878, where he joined a circle of brilliant expatriates that included Frank D. Millet, John Singer Sargent, and Henry James. Despite his success as a painter (he became a Royal Academician in 1898 and in 1902 was appointed court artist for the coronation of Edward VII), Abbey remained a regular contributor to Harper's Weekly almost until his death.