Size: 151.8 cm x 238.4 cm (60 x 94 inches)
Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1869
Current owner: Milwaukee School of Engineering
Original caption: ‘Shingling is the process of fashioning the puddled balls of iron into oblong slabs or blooms by heavy blows of the forge hammer, etc.’
Shinglers marked a turning-point in Crowe’s artistic career. Not since 1861 (Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia) had he exhibited a painting depicting the realities of contemporary industrial or commercial life. Yet the paintings he was to produce in the 1870s were to be dominated by modern scenes, including works of social realism. The picture formed part of an exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery in 1987, and was noted in the exhibition catalogue by Julian Treuherz (Hard Times: Social Realism in Victorian Art, p. 105), as as ‘a remarkable scene of workers in an iron foundry, with an eerie lighting effect derived from Joseph Wright of Derby’.
Crowe had long been interested in industrial processes. His diaries reveal that he began a sketch of iron workers after visiting an ironworks at Falkirk in June 1862. In October of the same year he visited Mr Foster’s Iron Works at Stourbridge and was introduced to the process of shingling, after which he again made a sketch of the ‘Shinglers at the Forge’. Crowe was giving serious thought to a painting on the subject in September 1868, when a letter from his brother Edward (an engineer) advised that he paint a pair of pictures, one showing iron-workers at work and the other showing them on strike. ‘This I had thought of, but tried to shirk. It must be done so, however’, he wrote in his diary. It is not known whether a companion painting of striking iron-workers was ever begun. In October 1868, Crowe visited Hopkins’ Iron Works in Middlesborough and observed shingling in progress, and on 24 November 1868 he revisited the Stourbridge Iron Works and sketched the hammer there. The final painting, on a large scale of 151.8cm x 238.4cm (60 inches x 94 inches) was finished by April 1869 when it was submitted to the Royal Academy. Mr Hopkins of the Middlesborough Iron Works later informed Crowe that he had painted a helve hammer instead of a nasmith.
Shinglers, by then called The Foundry, was acquired by the Forbes Collection in 1981, and was sold at auction by Christie’s of London in February 2003, for £29,875. The purchaser, Ernhart G. Grohmann, President of the Aluminum Casting and Engineering Co. of Milwaukee, donated the painting to the Milwaukee School of Engineering, where it is on public display.
Athenaeum, 15 May 1869:
In [Shinglers] men are forging iron, and the effect desired would seem to be Rembrandtish, if not worthy of Rembrandt, who would have sacrificed all things to the fierce brilliance of the incandescent metal. Mr. Crowe has remained faithful to his knowledge of form, sacrificed chiaroscuro, and, we might almost add, foregone light and shade in this by no means brilliant but very masculine picture. It needs some point of interesting nature to redeem it.
Art Journal, 1869, p. 164:
Mr. E. Crowe is another artist of genius which will not condescend to please: very clever, but not a little disagreeable, are ‘Shinglers’ (61) and ‘The Jacobite’ (96).
The Times, 11 June 1869:
Mr. E. Crowe’s large picture of ‘Shinglers’ (61) at work in the glare of the foundry, bringing a mass of red-hot iron under the beam of the steam hammer, their faces and limbs shielded by armour-like guards against the intense heat, is such a subject as Wright of Derby would have revelled in, and Mr. Crowe has treated it with courageous breadth and strength of light and shade. It is the most rigorous painting we remember from a painter who has generally confined himself to anecdotic history of cabinet size.