Although he would claim that during his first trip to Italy, "a fondness for the Italian Renaissance came over me," Mowbray's easel paintings reflect an orientation toward Italian art that is much tempered by French academic painting and British Pre-Raphaelitism. The decorative landscape and...
Although he would claim that during his first trip to Italy, "a fondness for the Italian Renaissance came over me," Mowbray's easel paintings reflect an orientation toward Italian art that is much tempered by French academic painting and British Pre-Raphaelitism. The decorative landscape and opalescent palette of "Le Destin" owe a debt to Puvis de Chavannes; the auburn-haired women with their aristocratic profiles and sumptuously patterned robes parallel the interpretations of late medieval and Renaissance culture painted by Rossetti and Burne-Jones (see Rossetti, "Bocca Baciata," 1980.261). Also echoing the interests of the Pre-Raphaelite painters are a preference for antiquarian subjects and a taste for decorative details evoking the Renaissance (for example the conspicuously, if illogically, placed Corinthian columns, and the tabernacle frame, whose pattern recalls Venetian facade ornamentation). Mowbray's presentation of the classical subject of the Fates is quite unorthodox. The Fates are usually shown as three women, not five; typically, they are old and ugly. They are often shown spinning; they would break the thread when a life was over. Instead, Mowbray shows three young women weaving a tapestry, presumably meant to signify the tapestry of life, depicting a medieval tournament or joust. The other two women have no clear identities. The standing figure at the right may have been intended to represent Fortuna, who is associated with the Fates in some accounts of the legend. She holds the golden threads from which the Fates weave the tapestry, while at left, a figure with scissors, whose role, presumably, is to snip the threads and so cut off life, consults a crystal globe. This unconventional illustration, with its mysterious subject, its iridescent, unnatural palette, and its figures at once alluring and forbidding, parallels the fin-de-siecle tendency in England and France toward sensational or at least self-consciously strange images of women. This text has been adapted from C. Troyen in T. Stebbins, et al., "The Lure of Italy: American Artists and the Italian Experience, 1760-1914," exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1992.
Lower right: H SIDDONS MOWBRAY
The artist; J. F. Archbold; with Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York; to MFA, 1979, purchase.
Tompkins Collection—Arthur Gordon Tompkins Fund