The Cleveland Museum of Art

Collection Online as of March 2, 2024

Memento Mori, "To This Favour"

Memento Mori, "To This Favour"

(American, 1848–1892)
Framed: 77.9 x 98.4 x 8.6 cm (30 11/16 x 38 3/4 x 3 3/8 in.); Unframed: 61.3 x 81.5 cm (24 1/8 x 32 1/16 in.)

Did You Know?

Harnett’s family left Ireland during the potato famine and emigrated to the United States.


The Latin term memento mori describes a traditional subject in art that addresses mortality. In Harnett’s example, the extinguished candle, spent hourglass, and skull symbolize death. A quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, inscribed on the inside cover of a tattered book, reinforces the theme. It comes from the play’s famed graveyard scene where Hamlet discovers a skull and grimly ponders his beloved Ophelia, ironically unaware that she is already dead. The "paint" in the quote not only refers to Ophelia’s makeup, but also wittily evokes the artifice of Harnett’s picture.
  • 1965-
    The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
    (Kennedy Galleries, New York, NY, sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art)1
  • The Kennedy Quarterly 5:2 (Jan. 1965).
    Harnett, William Michael, and E. T. Snow. Paintings of the Late W.M. Harnett: On Exhibition, Earle's Galleries. Philadelphia: Earle's Galleries, 1892.
    Elder, Nika. William Harnett's Curious Objects: Still-Life Painting after the American Civil War. (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2022). Mentioned p. 75; Reproduced p. 77.
    Adams, Henry. What's American about American art?: a gallery tour in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 2008. Reproduced: fig. 11, p. 12
    Arendsee, M., and M. Steinman-Arendsee. "Take the CAN disability aesthetics tour, at the Cleveland Museum of art." CAN Journal (Winter 2019/20): 76-87. Mentioned p. 80
  • Year in Review: 1965. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH (organizer) (October 27-November 14, 1965).
    Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Reality of Appearance: The Trompe L'Oeil Tradition in American Painting (21 March-3 May 1970); traveled to New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (19 May-5 July 1970); (not shown at Berkeley and Detroit), cat. no. 28, pp. 6-9, 56-93, listed p. 64, illus. p. 65 as Memento Mori-"To This Favour."
    Tulsa, Philbrook Art Center, Painters of the Humble Truth: Masterpieces of American Still Life, 1801-1939 (27 September-1 November 1981); traveled to Oakland, Oakland Museum of Art (8 December 1981-24 January 1982); Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art (2 March-25 April 1982), illus. p. 156, fig. 8.4 as Memento Mori-"To This Favour," pp. 153-207, 292.
    New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, William M. Harnett (14 March-14 June 1992); traveled to Fort Worth, Amon Carter Museum (18 July-18 October 1992); San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (14 November 1992-14 February 1993); Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art (14 March-13 June 1993), cat. no. 12, illus. p. 10, plate 12, pp. xiv-xvi, 148-159 (John Wilmerding "Notes of Change"), detail illus. p. 252, pp. 252-263 (Chad Mandeles, "Grave Counsel"), pp. 309-314 (Thayer Tolles Mickel "Chronology).
  • {{cite web|title=Memento Mori, "To This Favour"|url=false|author=William Michael Harnett|year=1879|access-date=02 March 2024|publisher=Cleveland Museum of Art}}

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