The Tower Bridge

The Crucifixion. by Sir Frank Brangwyn RA RWS PRBA HRSA, 1867-1956. Colored crayons. Source: Sparrow, Prints and Drawings of Frank Brangwyn. Between 28 and 29 . [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by Walter Shaw Sparrow

Sparrow here writes about Brangwyn's painting, etching, and preparatory drawings of the Crucifixion, but, as he makes clear below, his comments apply to all three. — George P. Landow]

If Brangwyn had painted an idealist dream of The Crucifixion, he would not have transferred the two thieves from the Gospels to his picture, his etching and his drawings; but his mood is true and noble. The only idealism in the Gospel stories of The Crucifixion is the reserve shown by St. John when Jesus bows His head and gives up the ghost. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have no reserve; they cause Nature, or the Divinity active in Nature, to rebel against the second great fall of human reason, which ought always to recover from Christ the Paradise lost in Eden. Brangwyn's tragedian vision could have been still more realistic without equalling the care with which three of the Gospels speak of the sudden earthquake and reveal among the onlookers a cold curiosity mingled with depraved mocking and satire. As for Brangwyn's etching of The Crucifixion, it is more insistent than his oil painting, and more so than his coloured drawings are, as black and white give a somewhat dogmatic force or blow to impassioned realism; and I confess to being worried a little by the workman on the ladder and by the faces of two onlookers, though I understand that this etching, like Rembrandt's broad and rapi'd "Three Crosses," otherwise known as "Christ Crucified between Two Thieves," must be viewed synthetically, as a whole, and not bit by bit. The great aquaduct in the background is well placed and finely symbolic, since an aquaduct is a bridge that conveys water to the thirsty, and since the ancient Roman power lingers on still in timeworn aquaducts and bridges.

For the rest, this etching, like the oil-painting or the chalk drawings, is as original as honour and reverence in art can be. It is not a translation from the Italian Old Masters, nor a dream-tragedy from a dateless period, nor is it surrounded by the time fashions of our Saviour's brief stay on earth. The whole tragedy is contemporaneous with ourselves, like Christianity ; and thus we cannot help thinking of Rembrandt, who reveals the story of Jesus among the good Dutch, and thinks always of Jesus as the Son of Man among humble and common lives. [29]

Brangwyn's crayon study for The Crucifixion is among the great deeds which should convince us that pastel belongs essentially — not to the art of drawing, but to the arts of colour and painting. Reticent as it is in hue and tone, it has qualities — original freedom and power, with amplitude and rapt imagination — which we expect to find in a virile master's inspired sketch with paint; and any oil-painter who tried to copy its appeal would find that he had undertaken a hard task indeed. . . . To what do we owe this excellent study of character? To the dumpy sticks of powdery pastel, or harder crayon encircled by wood, or pieces of coloured chalk as naked and about as hard as conte crayons are ? It matters not in the least, for the effect is one of a dry pigment without sheen or glossiness applied as decorative colour to a grained paper. [248]


Sparrow, Walter Shaw. Prints and Drawings of Frank Brangwyn with Some Other Phases of His Art. London: John Lane, 1919. Internet Archive version of a copy in the Ontario College of Art. Web. 28 December 2012.

Last modified 29 December 2012