Catalogue entry

T03615 NOT GUILTY (THE ACQUITTAL)

Oil on canvas 40 × 50 (1016 × 1270)
Inscribed on a label (now removed) on the stretcher ‘No 1| “Not Guilty.”| companion picture to “Waiting for the| Verdict,” exhibited in 1857.|A Solomon| 18 Gower Street|Bedford Square’
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) with assistance from the National Art-Collections Fund and the Sue Hammerson Charitable Trust 1982
Prov: Perhaps commissioned by Charles Thomas Lucas (d.1895) as a companion to T03614; then as for T 03614 but Sotheby's Belgravia 9 April 1974 (105, repr. in col.) £2,900 bt R. Dell; ...; a private collector from whom bt by the Tate Gallery through Albion Fine Art
Exh: RA 1859 (557); International Exhibition, South Kensington 1862 (734); Victorian Era Exhibition, Earls Court 1897 (323); Great Victorian Pictures, AC tour, Leeds City Art Gallery, January–March 1978, Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery, March–May 1978, Bristol City Art Gallery, May–July 1978, RA, July–September 1978 (52, repr.); Solomon. A Family of Painters, Geffrye Museum, November–December 1985, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, January–March 1986 (18, repr.)
Engr: Mezzotint by W.H. Simmons, ‘The Acquittal’, pub. Henry Graves & Co. 1 January 1866 (see T03617)
Lit: Athenaeum, 30 April 1859, p.586; Daily News, 30 April 1859, p.2; Critic, 7 May 1859, p.447; Literary Gazette, 14 May 1859, p.594; Gazette des Beaux Arts, 15 May 1859, p.243; Times, 18 May 1859, p.12; Illustrated London News, 21 May 1859, p.498; Morning Star, 23 May 1859, p.2; Spectator, 23 May 1859, p.550; Critic, 28 May 1859, p.520; Art Journal, V, 1859, p.170; Universal Review, i, 1859, p.581; Blackwood's Magazine, August 1859, p.137; Malcolm Warner, ‘Victorian Paintings at the Tate Gallery, Recent Acquisitions’, Apollo, CXXIII, 1986, pp.259–60, fig.3; see also Lit for T03614

Until Abraham Solomon exhibited ‘Waiting for the Verdict’ [T03614] at the Royal Academy in 1857 his reputation rested chiefly upon his output of literary and domestic genre scenes which were frequently inspired by eighteenth-century sources. However, like his slightly older contemporary W.P. Frith (1819–1909), who by 1851 had grown ‘weary of costume painting’ and ‘determined to try [his] hand on modern life, with all its drawbacks of unpicturesque dress’ (W.P. Frith, My Autobiography, 1887, i, p.243), Solomon, from 1854 onwards, showed a greater concern for contemporary subject matter, beginning with a pair of paintings, ‘First Class - the meeting’ (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa) and ‘Second Class - the parting’ (Australian National Gallery, Canberra), which he exhibited at the Academy that year. Of these the first, which showed an encounter in a railway carriage between a handsome young man and an attractive young woman (whose father or guardian is asleep beside her), is very much a modern-dress treatment of the kind of imminent flirtation which was customarily dealt with by genre painters of the day by putting the characters in ‘period’ costume. The sequel, ‘Second Class’, which showed a widowed mother accompanying her young son on a train journey down to a sea port to join his ship, demonstrates rather better Solomon's ability to deploy contemporary subject matter to some effect.

With the painting ‘A Contrast’ of 1855 (private collection), which depicts a scene on the sands at Boulogne where a rich and pretty English lady, confined to her wheelchair, is the object of the curiosity and pity and, ultimately, the indifference of a pair of passing rosy-cheeked fishergirls, Solomon again showed his interest in aspects of contemporary life and the morals which might be drawn from them. But it was ‘Waiting for the Verdict’ of 1857 that established Solomon as a more substantial painter than hitherto had been thought the case. It was immediately identified by the critic in the Athenaeum as ‘much more refined and with much more purpose’ than the artist's previous works and in its truth to nature was linked, by the writer in the Critic, to the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. Even so, the same writer expressed the opinion, not uncommon at this time when subjects of a similar nature were under review but some-what surprising to present-day audiences, that ‘the principal objection to the picture is, that it is far too painful to be often looked at. So tragical a moment as this is hardly fit to be perpetuated in all its terrible features’.

Possibly the latter reason might explain why the picture was still unsold at the end of the Academy exhibition. When it was exhibited in Liverpool later in the year it was still on sale at 500 guineas. A slightly better indication of how widely Solomon's picture was appreciated is found in the fact that when, at that exhibition, Millais's ‘The Blind Girl’ (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) was awarded the £50 prize given by Liverpool Academy of Arts to the best work by a non-Liverpool artist, the decision was only reached by a casting vote against another painting by Millais and Solomon's ‘Waiting for the Verdict’.

With its heightened atmosphere of pathos and carefully sustained air of uncertainty Solomon contrived to make his audience speculate about the outcome of the trial which is the subject of the painting. He produced a sequel, ‘Not Guilty’, which appeared at the Royal Academy in 1859. It was hung badly: the writer in the Critic described it as being ‘so far above the line as to obscure a large portion of its merits [and] placed immediately over an abominable work which seems to have been designedly selected to kill all its good effects’. By general consent, the sequel was disappointing and even though there is some invitation to the spectator to continue trying to puzzle out the circumstances of the trial - there is a hint that the acquitted man might have been either wrongly accused or the victim of a malicious charge - the element of suspense, so crucial in the earlier work, has now evaporated. The Daily News adopted a rather higher moral tone in its strictures:

what is far more startling is that this acquittal deprives the former picture of all its ethical value and meaning. It certainly was not so evident in the first work as it should have been that the verdict must inevitably be guilty; but it was only this assumption that reconciled us to what, if not being indicative of the consequences of crime, was otherwise a most gratuitous exhibition of the sufferings of a poor family. All our fancied insight into the artist's moral purpose is now, however, overturned, that we will not venture to elucidate the rapture of this same ‘Not Guilty’...


A few years later, when the two pictures were exhibited at the International Exhibition, F.T. Palgrave described, more succinctly, the inherent weakness of Solomon's concept when he termed them ‘spirited melodrama’ (F.T. Palgrave, Descriptive Handbook to the Fine Art Collections in the International Exhibition, 2nd ed., 1862, p.61). The paintings later gained a much wider popularity through Simmons's engravings, for which see T 3616–17 above.

Other versions of T03614 and T03615 exist: (1) a pair of reduced replicas signed and dated 1859 (oil on canvas 24 × 29; 610 × 735) last on the London art market at Christie's, 30 November 1984 (31, repr.); (2) a pair of reduced replicas (oil on panel 14 × 16; 355 × 406), Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery; (3) a pair of reduced replicas lent by R.R. Hyatt to St Judes, Whitechapel in 1884 (98, 99) when they were referred to as ‘copies of larger pictures in the South Kensington Museum’. This might indicate that they were copies made by another artist at the time the originals were exhibited in the International Exhibition at South Kensington in 1862.

Various studies for T03614-T03615 were included in Solomon's studio sale held at Christie's, 14 March 1863: lot 1, described as ‘Waiting for the Verdict - 50in. by 40in.’ in chalk, bt £3.10.0 Gilbert; 2, ‘a study for “The Acquittal”’ in chalk, bt 16s. Noseda; 46, ‘“The Acquittal” - 40in. by 50in.’, described as a ‘Cartoon’, bt £4.5.0 Smart; and 66, ‘A first Study for “The Acquittal” - 18in. by 24in.’, probably painted in oil, bt 4 gns G. Earl.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986