Catalogue entry

Sir Hamo Thornycroft 1850-1925

T03963 The Mower 1888-90

Bronze 585 x 330 x 185 (23 x 13 x 7 1/4)
Cast inscriptions 'HAMO THORNYCROFT RA SC 1888' on top surface of base at right and 'Hamo Thornycroft | 1890' on same surface at back; stamped numerals '15' on top of base at back and on front edge of base; stamped numerals '15' and '5' and cast numerals '1·91' or 16·1' beneath base
Presented by Arthur Grogan 1985
Prov: ...; sold Capes Dunn, Manchester, 18 March 1969 (136) bt Fine Art Society, from whom bt by Arthur Grogan, June 1969
Exh: on loan to Tate Gallery 1983-5
Lit: Elfrida Manning, Marble & Bronze: The Art and Life of Hamo Thornycroft, 1982, p.207 no.152d

After producing naturalistically modelled figures of athletic classical nudes in the manner initiated by Leighton in his 'Athlete Wrestling with a Python' (1877, Tate Gallery [N01754]), Thornycroft turned in 'The Mower' to a contemporary rural subject, portraying - apparently for the first time in British sculpture - a labourer in his working clothes. In its subject and treatment the work is linked to the rural naturalism of such contemporary painters as Clausen and La Thangue, but the most important sculptural prototype is Donatello's 'David'.

'The Mower' had its origin in a modest pencil sketch made on the Thames at Marlow in the summer of 1882 (Manning 1982, pp.18, 88, 90 fig.57). In this a mower is shown standing on the river bank much as in T03963 but with the directions reversed, i.e. his right hand is on his hip and the scythe handle is supported by his left arm. An 8 1/2 inch high wax model dated 25 August 1882 (Tate Gallery, N04214) follows the drawing in this respect. Bronze casts of about the same height, dated 1884, are related to this model but show the scythe with the blade up instead of resting on the ground, apparently the only form of the work in which this variation occurs.

In September 1883 Thornycroft began a life-size version in clay with his Italian model Orazio Cervi posing. The plaster from this was completed on 6 April 1884 and sent to the RA two days later (Manning 1982, pp.16 fig.5 91-2). In this the original directions are changed and appear as in T03963, while the figure is bare-chested instead of dressed in the shirt indicated in the wax model. When he exhibited the plaster Thornycroft inserted in the RA catalogue the following lines from, or, rather, adapted from, Matthew Arnold's lament 'Thyrsis', written in memory of his fellow poet Arthur Hugh Clough:

A mower, who as the tiny swell
Of our boat passing heaved the river grass,
Stood with suspended scythe to see us pass

Thornycroft's version of the lines disguises the fact that the poet is asking a question, 'Where are the mowers ...?' to which the answer is 'They all are gone, and thou art gone as well!'. This interesting suppression apart, the lines match so well the physical circumstances in which the sculptor first observed his mower, from a boat on the Thames, as to suggest that they were already in his mind at the time.

The plaster was much praised at the Academy but was not cast in bronze on this scale, and then in a unique cast, until 1894 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; Manning 1982, p.90 fig.58). In the meantime Thornycroft produced the 23 inch version of which T03963 is an example. The dates 1888 and 1890 found on this would appear to refer to the date of the original clay model and of the casting respectively. A cast was exhibited at the RA in 1890 (no.2021) and Thornycroft issued a circular at the same time advertising his edition of both this work and his 'Teucer' (Susan Beattie, The New Sculpture, New Haven and London 1983, pp.188-9, quoting Saturday Review, May 1890). The edition appears to have been limited to 25 casts (Manning 1982, p.190).

T03963 was cast by the lost-wax method, the scythe being attached after separate casting in three pieces (blade and two sections of handle).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.81-2