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Charles Vigor (fl. 1881-1902)
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Charles Vigor (fl. 1881-1902)

Innocence and Guilt

Charles Vigor (fl. 1881-1902)
Innocence and Guilt
signed 'Charles Vigor' (lower left)
oil on canvas
54 3/8 x 71¾ in. (138.1 x 182.3 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 18 March 1983, lot 101 (as 'The Arrest').
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 23 March 1984, lot 64.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 22 February 1985, lot 64.
Academy Notes, 1893, p. 15.
London, Royal Academy, 1893, no. 331.
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Lot Essay

Vigor was a portraitist and figurative subject painter. He exhibited over twenty works at the Royal Academy with tantalising titles such as 'Do Take Me!'.

The current work merited comment in the Academy Notes of 1893. Its impressive scale and choreographed melodrama recall the work of French masters such as William Bougereau (1825-1901).

Vigor depicts the debtor being apprehended by the authorities. It is morning and light streams through the attic window, but the protagonist is still bed-bound; implicitly recovering from the previous night's debauchery, whilst his family are already up and dressed. The tension and pathos of the situation is exacerbated by their presence. The woman is dwarfed by the policemen as she opens the door to their shadowy forms. The two girls, whom Vigor portrays as too young to bear the marks of physical or mental suffering, remain engaged in innocent pursuits. Their lack of awareness, and pink perfection, provides a stark contrast to their father's raffish form and supine state, and explains the picture's title: Innocence and Guilt.

The plight of the debtor was much debated in Victorian England. A prevalent and pitiful figure, he could temporarily ward off reprisals by pawning sentimental valuables, as does Captain Hawdon in Dickens's Bleak House (1852-53). (Mr Skimpole's tactic, of manipulating wealthy friends, was perhaps less often employed). A convicted man would be sent to a special debtors prison, and was not eligible for release until his creditors were paid.

Vigor treads a line between condemnation and sympathy. This particular debtor seems to be culpable for his condition. Racing memorabilia litters the room, and the cards with which the youngest child toys are accessories to crime. Vigor's point is no doubt one of recognising responsibility: the debtor's family would often accompany him to prison, so that the innocent bore punishment too. No doubt Mr Skimpole's refrain: 'I am not at all respectable, and I don't want to be. Odd perhaps, but so it is!' (Bleak House, chapter 37), would have been useless in this case.

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