Thomas Cooper Gotch
Alleluia exhibited 1896

Artwork details

Thomas Cooper Gotch 1854–1931
Date Exhibited 1896
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 1333 x 1841 mm
frame: 1855 x 2355 x 190 mm
Acquisition Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1896
On display at Tate Britain
Room: 1900


Alleluia was bought for the Nation under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest, following its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1896. Along the top of the canvas, inscribed in Gothic lettering on a background of gold leaf, a Latin quotation reads: Sancti tui domine benedicent te gloriam regni tui dicent - Alleluya. The inscription is taken from Psalm xlvii: 6 and 7, which was printed in the catalogue of the 1896 Royal Academy exhibition: ' "Sing praises to God, sing praises: Sing praises unto our King, Sing praises, For God is King of all the earth: Sing praises with understanding".'

Alleluia is one of a number of compositions by Gotch that were painted throughout the 1890s and 1900s in the new style that the artist adopted following a visit to Italy in 1891-2. Compositions by Gotch post-1892 generally take as their focus the themes of motherhood and child development. Other examples of such work by him include, The Child Enthroned (1894), The Heir to All The Ages (1897), A Pageant of Childhood (1899, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and Holy Motherhood (1902, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne). These works, which share a common hieratic style and draw also on the symbolism of religious ritual, caused the artist to be linked with a contemporary revival of interest in English Pre-Raphaelitism.

The composition, which draws on the visual tradition of the devotional altarpiece or reredos, was described by one critic of the 1896 Royal Academy exhibition as 'a rather powerful and rich scheme of colour, aided by a gold background' in which the figures were 'lacking spontaneity and natural movement' (Magazine of Art, 1896, p.358). In a long monographic article on Gotch written in 1910, the American critic, Charles Caffin, commented of Alleluia: 'A touch of seriousness shadows Gotch's vision. One discerns it ... in the Alleluia of the Tate Gallery, where two rows of children in dresses of damask and brocade stand in front of a gilded architectural wainscot, singing the old Latin hymn of praise to God. In this modern "Cherub's Choir" the artist ... has translated it into the symbolism of his own idea of childhood, which is not merely a love of childhood as a stationary aspect of life, but a step in the evolution of the individual and the race' (Caffin, p.930).

In 1896, the Windsor Magazine declared of Alleluia that: 'Almost every Eastern and Western nation is represented in the rainbow robes which clothe the children' (The Windsor Magazine, p.279, quoted in Wallace, n.pag). Gotch's reference to other nations of the world in the costumes worn by the children may, as has been suggested, refer to the 'universality of worship' (E.T Cook, A Popular Handbook to the Tate Gallery, 1898, p.211). However, Gotch had been a founding member of the Royal Colonial Society of British Artists, and such national inclusivity may also be viewed as an allusion to the colonial expansion of the British Empire. Indeed, events such as Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee held in 1897, the year after the public exhibition of Alleluia, were designed to commemorate the imperial splendour of the Empire under British rule at the height of its power.

Further reading:
Charles Henry Caffin, 'A Painter of Childhood and Girlhood', Harper's Monthly Magazine, vol.59, May 1909-10, p.930
Catherine Wallace, Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931): 'The Last of The Pre-Raphaelites', exhibition catalogue, Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro 2001, unpaginated, illustrated in colour.
Francis Greenacre and Caroline Fox, Painting in Newlyn 1880-1930, exhibition catalogue, Barbican Art Gallery, London 1985, p.177.

Rebecca Virag
July 2001