Sanctuary (1877)


‘Sanctuary’ by Eyre Crowe A.R.A. (1877). Photograph taken from ‘The Royal Academy album: a series of photographs from works of art in the exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts’, ed Samuel Jennings, 1877. Credit The National Library of Scotland. Creative Commons licence CC-BY,

Medium: oil

Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1877

The Academy, 14 April 1877:

Mr Eyre Crowe A.R.A. will exhibit, we find, at the Royal Academy, the four works which have recently occupied him, of which one is a quite important work and the rest small cabinet pictures. Mr Eyre Crowe has been to Rouen, and has turned to very various account his studies in the churches there. In the large work – to be called, we suppose, Sanctuary – there is vivid representation of a dramatic scene which might serve as a fine suggestion to a playwright. The scene is the great church, with clustering pillars, with groups in stone and groups on canvas, with immense walls of various grey, across which the coloured sunlight strikes from windows lost to view Within the railed or partitioned space of sanctuary, stands the special chair – a broad stone chair, the like of which may be seen at Beverley or Hexham – and within it is the figure of a woman, thrown there rapidly, huddled, cowed as it were, with recent flight, and having but during these last moments reached her place of safety. Just without the partition stands an official of the church, who will immediately throw over her the cloak with cross in sign of her immunity from attack. He is surrounded by a group of city girls, youths, children, and old men even, pressing forward. A little on one side an eager youth has mounted a stool or chair the better to note the woman who has found shelter, and a little on the other, an old gossip of the town, standing by an on-looking girl, turns from the object of the others’ solicitude to the source of new commotion – to the brawling and protecting group by whom the husband is forcibly expelled. For it is because of no offence, but of the maltreatment of home, that the red-robed, red-shoed, gold-haired heroine of the drama has fled, and her husband quickly following, with intent to ill-use, has now just been arrested and is slowly and with difficulty pressed to the door. This is the main story, which Mr Eyre Crowe has told with great vigour of conception, seconded by habitual precision and skill in execution… Mr Crowe is very much to be congratulated on a series of works of which all are marked by excellent skill, and one by high power.

Illustrated London News, 5 May 1877:

Mr. Eyre Crowe (in the ‘Sanctuary’) [has made] an amazing pas en avant in artistic excellence.

The Times, 5 May 1877 [the very first painting noted by the critic]:

In Room 1, Mr. Eyre Crowe’s ‘Sanctuary’ shows us a fair-haired woman in red, clasping in terror the sanctuary stool of a church, while behind the rails which shut off the sanctuary gesticulates a crowd of baffled pursuers. The defect of the picture pictorially is the wide empty space between the woman and her pursuers. A more serious defect is the difficulty the spectator feels of conjecturing the offence of one so young and seemingly so innocent. The painter may have meant to set us this as a problem. But it is a bold thing to do, for the chances are ten to one that the impatience of such puzzles is stronger than their interest.

Athenaeum, 5 May 1877:

Mr. Eyre Crowe gives us a large picture, with a very dramatic subject, styled Sanctuary (9), a wife taking refuge in a church – the scene is well known at Rouen – while pursued by her brutal husband; she has attained the fridstool of stone within the sacred enclosure; crowds of curious gazers peer over the rails, while stout men expel the man from the church.

Athenaeum, 12 May 1877:

A poor woman in a bright red dress, the hem of which is marked with dust, indicating a rapid flight, although, by the way, her shoes are clean and bright, has cast herself, panting and exhausted, on the stone seat near the altar … Her wild flaxen hair streams behind her shoulder; her person is ample and exuberant. Mr. Crowe, when he designed the figure with so much energy and imparted so much passion to her action of turning to the shrine, did not commit the common mistake of making her beautiful. No doubt, having a sterner moral to enforce than meets the eye, he refused to lend meretricious charms to the wretched woman whose husband has pursued her to the very altar, and is seen struggling against six stout arms, which combine to expel him from the church. Beyond the rail of the sanctuary, the verger, sceptre in hand, has brought the black robe, which is marked with a yellow cross and trimmed with red, a sanctuary garment; he holds the dress towards the fugitive, whom an old man, holding a hairy cap, indicates with his forefinger. Other persons, including a big-eyed boy and women, stare over the rail. The tall shafts at the crossing rise out of sight to the roof, gleams of many-coloured light strike the pillars and the walls. The aërial effect of the place is given with great care and success. Some of the expressions are first-rate, and they are varied with skill. The general aspect of the picture is bare, dry, not to say cold – at least the first impression affects us thus. It improves mightily with acquaintance.

Illustrated London News, 26 May 1877:

… Hypercriticsm has accused Mr. Eyre Crowe of having left an immense space of his foreground utterly bare and devoid of anything more interesting than a stone pavement; but it may be pleaded in reply that from the angular nature of the composition … it was virtually impossible to crowd the foreground with objects without disturbing and confusing the angular lines of the perspective. The contrast, moreover, between the tumultuous mob at the barrier and the calm solitude of the haven in which the hunted woman has taken refuge is, in the highest degree, artistically impressive; and finally, no technical solecism is committed by leaving so large a space untenanted, seeing that the painter has been so careful, by the introduction of the altar in the right and of the brass candelabrum basket and drapery in the left hand corner of his foreground, not to allow the spectator’s eye to wander out of the picture.

Art Journal, June 1877:

The picture of the young girl claiming ‘Sanctuary’ (9), by EYRE CROWE, and clinging wildly to the pillar in the church on which stands the sacred figure of the Virgin, is conceived in the true dramatic spirit.

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