Sanctuary (1877)

Medium: oil

Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1877

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; shhe 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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