Summary

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. This is apparently the first portrayal in British sculpture of 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 bronze David (c.1440, Bargello, Florence).

In the summer of 1882 Thornycroft made a pencil sketch of a mower he saw from a boat on the Thames at Marlow. In this a mower is shown standing on the river bank much as in the finished sculpture, but with the directions reversed, i.e. his right hand is on his hip and the scythe handle is supported by his left arm. A small wax model dated 25 August 1882 (Sketch for 'The Mower', 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 in the air instead of resting on the ground.

The life-size clay version, posed by Thornycroft's Italian model Orazio Cervi, was begun in September 1883. The plaster from this was completed on 6 April 1884, and sent to the Royal Academy two days later. In this the original directions are reversed and appear as in The Mower, and the figure is bare-chested instead of dressed in the shirt indicated in the wax model. When he exhibited the plaster Thornycroft published in the Royal Academy catalogue the following lines, adapted from Matthew Arnold's lament 'Thyrsis' (published 1867), 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.'

The plaster was much praised at the Academy but was not cast in bronze on this scale until 1894, and then in a unique cast (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). In the meantime Thornycroft produced an edition of the smaller version, of which The Mower is an example. The dates 1888 and 1890 found on this would appear to refer to the date of the completion of the clay model on a reduced scale, and of its casting respectively. A bronze cast was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890 and Thornycroft issued a circular at the same time advertising his edition of both this work and his Teucer (Tate Gallery N01751). The edition appears to have been limited to twenty-five casts. The Mower was cast by the lost-wax method, the scythe being attached after separate casting in three pieces (the blade and two sections of the handle).

Further reading:
Elfrida Manning, Marble & Bronze: The Art and Life of Hamo Thornycroft, London and Westfield, New Jersey 1982, pp.17, 90-96, 99, 122, 190, 207 no.152d
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1988, pp.81-2, reproduced

Terry Riggs
February 1998