About This Artwork

Elihu Vedder
American, 1836–1923

The Fates Gathering in the Stars, 1887

Oil on canvas
113 x 82.6 cm (44 1/2 x 32 1/2 in.)
Signed, lower right: "Elihu Vedder / Rome 1887"

Friends of American Art Collection, 1919.1

Elihu Vedder adapted this painting from an illustration he designed for an 1884 edition of Edward FitzGerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. An expatriate artist who lived in Rome for most of his life, Vedder was attracted to mysterious, visionary subject matter. The artist used the Rubaiyat to express his own philosophical beliefs regarding such metaphysical and spiritual questions as death and the existence of an afterlife, subjects that are at the core of Khayyam’s poetry. This image depicts the three Fates of Greek mythology—Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos—working the thread of life. Clotho spins the thread, Lachesis fixes its length, and Atropos cuts it at the appointed time of death. The Fates are symbolized by the spindle, distaff, and shears in the foreground and represent the poet’s belief that mankind has no control over destiny.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Boston, Doll and Richards Gallery, March 18 - ?, 1887.

New York, H. Wunderlich & Co., April 1887.

Paris, France, Palais du Champ de Mars, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Exposition Universelle Internationale, May 5-October 31, 1889, no. 305 (Les parques se rassemblant dans les etoiles).

New York, American Art Gallery, Valuable American and Foreign Oil Paintings by Distinguished Masters of Modern Schools, March 12-16, 1917, no. 73 as The Three Fates.

Art Institute of Chicago, Special Exhibition of the Works in the Friends of American Art Collection, May 15-June 15, 1919.

San Francisco, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Exhibition of Paintings, Collection of the Friends of American Art, Lent by the Art Institute of Chicago, June 26-July 26, 1926, no. 25.

Stockholm, Sweden, Royal Academy of Art, "Exhibition of American Art for Sweden," March 1-April 1, 1930; traveled to Copenhagen Denmark, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, "Udstilling af Amerikanst Kunst I København," May 3-22, 1930; Munich, Germany, Kunstverein München, "Ausstellung Americanischer Kunst," June-July, 1930, no. 106.

Art Institute of Chicago, A Survey of American Art, July 21-October 9, 1932.

Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution, National Collection of Fine Arts, October 13-february 4, 1979; traveled to New York, Brooklyn Museum, Perceptions and Evocations: the Art of Elihu Vedder, no. 225 April 28, 1979-July 9, 1979 (exhibited in Brooklyn only).

Norfolk, Va., Chrysler Museum, Paris 1889: American Artists at the Universal Exposition, September 29-December 17, 1989, Annette Blaugrund, et al, no. 305, pp. 218-220, ill. p. 220; traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art; exhibition extended to the New-York Historical Society, September 5-November 15, 1990.

Publication History

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam—The Astronomer Poet of Persia. Rendered into English Verse by Edward Fitzgerald with an accompaniment of Drawings by Elihu Vedder (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1884).

“Vedder’s Drawings for Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat,” Atlantic Monthly, 40 (January 1885), pp. 111-116.

“Art Notes: April Brings Another Special Exhibition by Mr. Elihu Vedder at the Wunderlich Gallery,” Art Review 1 (March 1887), pp. 116-117.

William Howe Downes, “Elihu Vedder’s Pictures,” Atlantic Monthly 59 (June 1887), pp. 842-846.

Elihu Vedder, The Digressions of V (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1910).

“Notes,” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago 13 (January 1919), p. 28.

“Exhibitions,” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago 13 (May 1919), p. 28.

“Report of the Trustees,” The Art Institute of Chicago Forty-First Annual Report (1919), p. 16.

“Donors and Lenders,” The Art Institute of Chicago Forty-First Annual Report (1919).

Carter Ratcliff, “The Gender of Mystery: Elihu Vedder,” Art in America, 67 (November 1979), pp. 84-92.

Regina Soria, Elihu Vedder, American Visionary Artists in Rome (1836-1923) (Rutherford, N. J.: Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 1970).

Marjorie Reich, “The Imagination of Elihu Vedder as Revealed in His Book Illustrations,” American Art Journal 6 (May 1974), pp. 39-53.

Ownership History

Henry Melville Whitney, Brookline, Mass., 1887; American Art Association, New York, 1917; George H. Ainslie, New York, 1917. Montross Gallery, New York, by 1919; sold by them to the Art Institute, 1919.

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