A Spoil Bank (1874)

Medium: oil

Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1874

Athenaeum, 9 May 1874:

Another work by him, though decidedly more grimy than [The Dinner Hour, Wigan], has higher claims on our attention, yet photography would have sufficed for this occasion too, as the picture is the representation of A Spoil Bank (537), one of these heaps of useless material brought up, and rejected at the mouth of a coal pit, with figures. The temporary wooden frame-work which supports a railway from the pit’s mouth to the end of the bank, and which is extended as the ‘spoil’ increases, rises on high towards the front of the picture; a truck at the end of this road has been tilted, and deposits its load in a cloud of dust and smoke with abundence of noise; the whole looks harsh, foul and painful. There are groups of persons, women and children, who rush to obtain chance scraps of coal from the overthrown truck load, and who grovel eagerly in the dust, – five kneel in the smoke, two are in the front, and in this group, the vitality of Mr. Crowe’s genius may be compared with that of Nature herself on the spot he has so well, if not wisely, represented. As she insists on, at least, blades of scurfy grass, so the painter must have incident and character, however trivial and mean they may be. One of the children has formed a little pile of coal, and fenced it with a circle of brick-bats, vain fortress against a grimy treasure. We admire Crowe’s conscientiousness in painting such uninviting subjects as these, but we submit that he might often have used his time more wisely, and that photography was made for such work as recording all that these pictures tell us, and that inferior hands might be trusted with the colour they display.

Illustrated London News, 23 May 1874:

… we are taken to the neighbourhood of a coal-pit where grimy girls and children are gleaning fuel from one of the huge refuse heaps known as ‘spoil banks’.

The Times, 26 May 1874:

Mr. Eyre Crowe’s ‘Spoil Bank’ (537), with the kerchiefed Wigan lasses and women groping for lumps of coal among the slack under the shoots, and the tall black colliers, davy in hand, looking down upon them, is one of two praiseworthy attempts to find paintable material in the rude life of some of the most unlovely regions of Lancashire.

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