The Founder of English Astronomy / Horrocks Seeing the Actual Transit of Venus (1891)

'The Founder of English Astronomy' by Eyre Crowe A.R.A. (1891)

'The Founder of English Astronomy' by Eyre Crowe A.R.A. (1891). Reproduced in Royal Academy Pictures, 1891

Medium: oil

Size: 76.2 x100.3 cm

Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1891; Liverpool autumn exhibition, 1891

Current owner: Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (WAG 1805)

Original caption: ‘Jeremiah Horrocks, curate at Hoole, Lancashire, having attended first to his religious duties on Sunday, November 24, 1639, and after having previously prepared his instrument for the observation of the transit of Venus, returns just in time to witness the event which he alone had correctly predicted as going to take place’

According to his diary, Crowe began work on this painting, then called ‘Horrocks seeing the actual transit of Venus’, in October 1889. He used a telescope set up by his friend from the Reform Club, the astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer, director of the Solar Physics Observatory at South Kensington. The painting depicts the Puritan clergyman Jeremiah Horrocks (1617-1641) observing Venus passing in front of the sun, using a projection onto a screen. Crowe is said to have visited Horrocks’ rented lodgings at Hoole in order to sketch the scene, and to have followed the description of the experiment given in a book by A.B. Whatton in an attempt to make the picture as authentic as possible. Despite these efforts, it is now known that the clothes and the instruments are both inaccurate.

The painting was donated to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool by Charles William Jones in the same year as its exhibition at the Royal Academy, and formed part of the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of 1891. It is now hanging in the Liverpool Museum as part of its Astronomy exhibition.

The painting is catalogued and reproduced in the volume Victorian and Edwardian Paintings in the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, Vol. 2 – ‘Victorian and Edwardian Paintings in the Walker Art Gallery and at Sudley House, by Edward Morris (Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1996).

Athenaeum, 23 May 1891:

The small room is a true portrait of that still existing in Carr House, Hoole, and the rude transit instrument of the period is placed near the green curtain of the window, its uncouth and clumsy supports being conspicuous in the half gloom, and the sheet of paper is duly suspended to receive the luminous image, while athwart the scene pours that narrow ray of light which comprised the dark figure of Venus. The predicted hour fell on a Sunday, when Horrocks was bound to intermit his observations to do duty at the neighbouring church. As it happened, he was able to return home in the nick of time. Mr. Crowe has shown Horrocks entering the room. The action of the observer, the eager eyes and parted lips, his hand lifted in wonder, and his delighted expression, are capitally and sympathetically given.

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