Frères Ignorantins / A procession of priests passing Voltaire’s birthplace in Paris (1868)

Medium: oil

Size: 33 x 43 inches

Exhibited: Dudley Gallery, 1868

Current owner: Private collection

Under its English title, this painting was auctioned at Christie’s on 3 February 1967. It was sold by a dealer in Kentucky in around 1980 and is currently in private ownership.

The London review of politics, society, literature, art and science, 7 Nov 1868:

Mr. Eyre Crowe’s “Freres Ignorantins” is also good. The brethren are passing along a street in Chatenay and the solemn pairs of black-garmented priests pass under a bust of Voltaire. The expression of the various faces of the brethren, as they become conscious that the stone eyes of the enemy are upon them, is very finely painted. There is something awkward, however, in the drawing of the right leg of each of the priests. People do not walk in that fashion, unless they labour under malformation of the lower limbs.

Athenaeum, 14 November 1868:

Mr E. Crowe’s Frères Ignorantins (139) is incomparably his best picture, whether as regards colour, lighting or character: a long line of black-robed brethren defiles through the street at Chatenay, the birthplace of Voltaire, the peculiar enemy of their order, and, as they go, regard, or obliquely disregard, the high placed bust of the philosopher of Ferney. Their expressions of disgust, contempt, shame, anger and pain are given with remarkable power and wealth in studies. The whole work is admirably contrived.

Art Journal, December 1868:

Eyre Crowe is another painter who, in this gallery [The Dudley Gallery], struggles laudably into better courses. ‘Frères Ignorantins’, by this artist of eccentricity, is a work of mitigated horrors. Nothing more dreadful than the bust – almost out of sight – of the infidel Voltaire, horrifies the pious minds of ‘The Brethren of the Congregation of Saint Yon’. The situation is strained and overdone, in order that the artist may make his picture … This objection would have less relevance, had it not been the habit of the artist to force his subject beyond the bounds of moderation. The painter has certainly made the most of his original and impossible thought. The mode in which he has wrought up the expression of the individual heads is beyond praise; each figure is marked in character, and pushed even to the verge of caricature. Even the attitudes of the three-cornered hats speak volumes; the church denounces heresy through the hatmaker and the tailor. It is a pity that the shadows are so black, that the harsh monotony of the lines is so unbroken, and that the background is not more varied; but these traits are the artist’s manner, and we accept it as not only peculiar, but original and strong.

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