Competitive Examination (1866)

Medium: oil

Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1866

Crowe’s first Royal Academy painting not on a historical theme, since Slaves Waiting for Sale in 1861, Competitive Examination was perhaps suggested by his experiences as an itinerant Inspector of government art schools in the provinces.

The Reader, 12 May 1866:

The Times of the 5th May says: Mr. Eyre Crowe’s Competitive Examination (603), showing the dangerous position of “a middle-class Oxford examiner under the new system of granting diplomas to young ladies.” The reference is, of course, not to Oxford, but Cambridge; the proper name for the examination is not middle-class, but local; while the new system of granting diplomas (!) must be very new indeed, and can only refer to the fact that young ladies who send in written answers to printed questions can receive in return an exact estimate of what their work is worth.

Illustrated London News, 19 May 1866:

Mr. Eyre Crowe usually exhibits far more important works than his picture of the boy Reynolds making his first sketch of the grammar-house at Plympton, or than his ‘Competitive Examination’ which seems a rather unfortunately-chosen subject.

Athenaeum, 19 May 1866:

Competitive Examination (603), represents the ordeal of a large school of young ladies before the government inspector, who sits on a platform in their midst. Before him a damsel does her best on the ‘black-board’; many more girls are arranged in rows at the desks, conning their tasks or preparing answers to the terrible master’s questions. The faces are remarkable for diversity of character, varied prettiness without frivolity, and that fidelity to Nature which approaches portraiture without being merely literal. It must be a trying task to examine the results of the working of so many fair heads, some of which must, of course, be those of dunces. That of the gentleman is the least good figure in the picture: this seems to be due in some degree to an effort to avoid making a likeness of the much-enduring mortal upon whom a stern sense of duty must weigh with dreadful force. This artist rightly relies upon characterization for success, and deserves high applause for the result.

The Times, 22 May 1866:

‘Competitive Examination’ (603), where a bevy of tempting-looking young ladies, in sober frocks, with pretty little fly-caps over their smooth hair, are hard at work, with book, slate and blackboard, before a demure young examiner. The picture is hung too high for proper appreciation, but seems to be rather hardly and ‘hungrily’ painted, though there is both grace and refinement in the girls’ figures and faces, and Mr. Crowe has resisted temptations to vulgarity which might have led away many painters of such a subject.

Art Journal, 1866, p. 166:

E. CROWE’s meritorious efforts scarcely realise the promise indicated by works exhibited some years back. If the pupils in ‘Competitive Examination’ (603) were not more successful than the picture in which they here appear, they must, indeed, have come to a bad end.

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