Mary Stuart, February 8th, 1586 (1868)

Medium: oil

Size: 40 x 56 inches

Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1868; Guildhall, London, 1897; Doré Galleries 1914

Original caption: ‘She was executed attired in red, her outer black dress having been taken off previously, and afterwards placed in the presence chamber, to await the visit of the Sheriff of Northampton, the surgeon, etc… They discovered her body covered with a billiard cloth, and her favourite little dog crouching by her side’ – Miss Strickland.

Mary Stuart was exhibited at the Guildhall in 1897, when it was still in Crowe’s own possession. The painting did not form part of the auction of his remaining works after his death, suggesting that he had sold it in the last few years of his life. It was offered for auction on 25 January 1974, but found no buyer; and auctioned again at Christie’s in May 1979.

Athenaeum, 16 May 1868:

Mr E. Crowe’s Mary Stuart, February 8th, 1586 (673) … may now be critically applauded on account of its highly-dramatic qualities, careful painting and breadth of effect. The body of the Queen lies on the floor of the Presence Chamber at Fotheringay, and is uncovered by the Sheriff of Northamptonshire to the surgeon who came to perform his office on the corpse. The painful suggestion of this incident has been very skilfully masked by the artist, whose best picture this is.

Illustrated London News, 30 May 1868:

The sequel of Mary’s fate forms the theme of Mr. Eyre Crowe’s meritorious picture (673) on the usual genre scale, where her body is seen lying with a billiard-cloth for a pall, and a favourite little dog as the only mourner.

Art Journal, 1868, p. 104:

E. CROWE has rectified faults which proved somewhat fatal in his recent pictures. ‘Mary Stuart, February 8th, 1586’ (673) is painted with more delicacy and finish than usual to the artist. We again think that this composition, in common with some of its predecessors, is unfortunate in its lines. The poor queen lies diagonally across the canvas, an object painful to behold, whether in humanity or in Art. The manipulation, however, shows decided advance on the artist’s recent efforts; the surface of paint is smooth, perhaps too smooth; and the light somehow caught on the figure is eminently effective. It is evident that Mr. Crowe has made considerable effort to correct the faults which have proved to the prejudice of his admitted talents.

The Times, 2 June 1868:

Mr. Eyre Crowe has been happier in subject than this year; the official visit of the Sheriff of Northampton and the surgeon to identify the body of Mary Queen of Scots … is not a pleasant theme for eye or mind to dwell on. Has Mr. Crowe expressed the colour of a body suddenly drained of its blood through the great arteries of the neck? Surely this is hardly the hue of ordinary death, much less death by decapitation. More might have been made by the dog. As we infer it was meant to point the moral of fidelity, it should have been painted on the near side of the dead Queen, not, as now, on the far side, with only the little head visible, and requiring some seach before it is seen at all. There is good drawing in the foreshortened body, and the painting is solid, careful and workmanlike.

The criticism by The Times concerning Crowe’s rendering of a decapitated body was echoed by the artist-surgeon Sir Henry Thompson, who informed Crowe (according to Crowe’s diary entry of 1 January 1869) that she would have lost at least a pound and a half of blood, and offered to let him know when a dead woman was brought into University College Hospital so that he could study the skin tone!

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