Herbert James Draper (British, 1864-1920)
Property from an American collection
HERBERT JAMES DRAPER (British, 1864-1920)

The Mountain Mists

HERBERT JAMES DRAPER (British, 1864-1920)
The Mountain Mists
signed 'Herbert Draper' (lower right)
oil on canvas
85 1/8 x 46 ½ in. (216.2 x 118.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1912.
Sir Robert Ropner, Bt. (1828-1934), Skutterskelfe Hall, Hutton Rudby, Yorkshire, probably acquired directly from the artist.
His estate sale; Christie's, London, 17 November 1950, part of lot 42 (comprised of two works), as Nymphs.
Bagnel, acquired at the above sale.
Nick Mathews (d. 1983) and Mary Mathews (1916-1998), Yorktown, VA.
Her estate sale; Kemp’s Antiques, Grafton, VA, 6 February 2000.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 30 November 2000, lot 21.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
M. H. Spielmann, 'The R.A., Some Pictures That Will Be Seen', The Daily News, London, 2 April 1912, p. 4.
'The Pictures of 1912. The Royal Academy', Pall Mall Magazine Extra, May 1912, p. 52, illustrated.
'The Royal Academy, Incident Pictures and Landscape', The Scotsman, Edinburgh, 7 May 1912, p. 5.
The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality, Supplement, London, 8 May 2012, p. 5, illustrated.
B. Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity, Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-siècle Culture, Oxford, 1986, pp. 127-128, illustrated.
C. Smith, 'Victorian Olympians,' Christie's Magazine, September-October 2000, pp. 94, 97, illustrated.
E. L. Smith, Evelyn Pickering De Morgan and the Allegorical Body, Madison, NJ, 2002, p. 164.
S. Toll, Herbert Draper, 1863-1920, Woodbridge, 2003, pp. 42, 149-151, 196, no. HJD160, illustrated, pl. 38.
London, Royal Academy, 1912, no. 730.

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Laura H. Mathis
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Lot Essay

Published alongside the present painting in the Royal Academy catalogue when it was exhibited in 1912 was the couplet, ‘Like Semele the mountain mists were whelmed/And perished in the ardor of the sun’. The mists, here personified as sensuous nude female figures floating weightlessly through a dramatic alpine landscape, are both drawn toward the sun’s light streaming through the clouds at upper right and are then destroyed by it. The three figures each illustrate the stages of the mists’ fate – the top-most figure rises upward toward the sun, her head thrown back and her back arched in reckless abandon as the sun’s rays descend to meet her. The dark-haired figure at center pulls her arms inward around herself, beginning to fade away, having come into contact with the light and heat of the sun, and finally the third figure along the bottom register, her arms again thrown open to the light, submits to her final fate and sinks down into the crevice below.
Described by Christopher Wood as ‘one of the best and least recognized classical painters,’ Draper’s fascinating oeuvre encompasses a variety of portraits, depictions of sea nymphs, and mythologically-inspired subject matter. Like his early mentor Lord Leighton, under whom he studied at the St. John's Wood Art School, Draper approached classical mythology with a less rigid approach than some of his contemporaries. Here, the artist draws inspiration broadly from the Apollonian myth of Clytie (the work is sometimes also called Clyties of the Mist), the nymph whose love for Apollo, the god of the sun, compelled her to reject food and drink and just follow the passage of the sun across the sky. She was later transformed into a sunflower, which turns its flower to face the sun throughout the day. Indeed, the pose of the figure at bottom left in the present work owes a debt to the pose of the figure of Clytie in Leighton’s own depiction of the subject, the artist’s last painting, of 1895-1896. As the couplet published with the work implies, there is also an association with the myth of Semele, who asks her lover Zeus to reveal himself to her in all his glory as a god. Because no mortal can look upon the true form of a god, Semele was consumed by the fire of Zeus’s lightning.
Draper also appears to have had a particular fascination with the liminal transition between dawn and day, a recurring theme within his work. In 1900 he took up the subject of The Gates of Dawn, depicting a beautiful nude female figure, with roses at her feet, throwing open a golden gate to reveal a dawn sky behind her. In 1906 Draper returned again to this idea, painting Dawn and the Daystar (fig. 1), which sought to personify the moment when Day extinguishes the more ephemeral Dawn. The artist characterizes Day as an Apollonian deity who gently embraces the Dawnstar as he lowers her from the mountain peak on which she once stood. The Dawnstar, like the mountain mists, is portrayed as a pale female figure, her arms and head thrown back in both rapture and demise. Day's embrace, while gentle, is temporary, he will soon have to let go of the Dawnstar and let her fall below in order to take his rightful place atop the mountain. Much like in the couplet that accompanied The Mountain Mists, Draper described the Dawnstar's fate similarly: 'To faint in the light of the sun she loves/To faint in his light and to die'.
Outside of the recurring themes within Draper’s own oeuvre, The Morning Mists is one of the artist’s most symbolist paintings and invites comparisons within that tradition as well. The depiction of weightlessness and abandon set within an alpine landscape finds a particularly compelling parallel in The Punishment of Luxury (sometimes also called The Punishment of Lust) by Giovanni Segantini, which dates to 1891. While Segantini’s figures are suspended in a barren landscape inspired by purgatory for their sins on earth, however, it is precisely the submission to sin which seems to have compelled Draper’s own interest in this subject matter. Simon Toll, who authored the monograph on Draper, particularly emphasizes this point: ‘Draper’s sylphs have surrendered to the usurping light of masculine domination. The pose suggests wantonness, adoration, and passivity…The virile golden rays of the masculine sun penetrate the feminine mists symbolic of the secrets of feminine sexuality…’ (S. Toll, op. cit. p. 151). During an era in British history so associated with the corset and sexual repression, nymphs in art, both passive and aggressive, gave full rein to the imagination of a male artist’s libido.
In spite of the symbolist overtones of the subject matter, Draper's formal approach to painting the present work was academic, reflecting the artist’s training as a young man at the Académie Julian in Paris. It is no accident that one of the most comparable pictures in English art is The Cloud of 1901 by Arthur Hacker (fig. 2), a slightly older artist who had enjoyed a similar training to Draper, studying under Bonnat in Paris a few years before Draper entered the Académie. Draper and Hacker would have almost certainly known one another, as both were members of the St. John's Wood Art Club and had many friends in common. In true Academic fashion, Draper undertook a number of studies for the present work, both drawn and in oil. A model from the Royal Academy schools, Jessie Morris, posed for all three female figures, and the seeds of Draper’s interest in the Alpine setting had been sewn in 1911, when the artist traveled to the area around Mount Blanc to make a series of landscape sketches, which were later exhibited at the Alpine Club.
Draper’s fascinating and multi-layered interpretations of myths often possess a baroque exuberance, both celebrating and personifying the power of nature. Combining Symbolist themes like submission and seduction with the artist’s fascinating approach to mythological subject matter and set within the inherent drama of an Alpine landscape, The Mountain Mists is an extraordinary example of the late Victorian classicizing style with which Draper should be better remembered today.

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