Albert Goodwin's Diary records the religious doubts that plagued his early years, but these were dispelled in 1883 when he adopted his wife's Victorian Evangelicism. During the 1880s and '90s he produced many large scale Biblical subject paintings, such as The Finding of the Lost Sheep (1888; Royal Academy, no. 541) and Judas Iscariot: 'I have betrayed innocent blood' (1895; Royal Academy, no. 794). Judas is portrayed as a tiny figure cast across a storm-felled tree in a tortured, angular, landscape - the gusts of wind that sweep it bespeak the wrath of God.
Dating from the same year, the present picture can almost certainly be identified as Goodwin's other Academy exhibit: Christian leaving the City of Destruction: 'The people that walked in Darkness etc.' (1895; no. 337). The artist's subject derives not from the Bible but from John Bunyan's veritable catechism: The Pilgrims Progress from this World to that Which is to Come (1678). Goodwin exhibited other Bunyan subjects at the Academy, such as Dawn in the Pilgrim's Road (1900; no. 575) and The end of the pilgrim's road, (1902; no. 405) but the present work appears to be his first.
The Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory which documents the journey of Christian from the 'City of Destruction' to the 'Celestial City' of Zion. Christian feels weighted down by the burden of knowledge and duty he feels inherent within a 'book' (the Bible). As embarks upon his journey from dark confusion to religious enlightenment, he is disappointed by the reluctance of his peers. He perceives their laziness an early sign of the disjunction from God that must finally equate to Hell: 'You dwell in the City of Destruction, the place also where I was born. I see it to be so; and dying there, sooner or later, you will sink lower than the grave into a place that burns with fire and brimstone: be content good neighbours, and go along with me'.
Christian's eventual discovery of the Celestial City (Heaven) is engineered by the Evangelist, who directs him towards the Wicker Gate, a goal he has already apprehended as the source of a 'shining light'.
Goodwin has therefore realised the apocalyptic imagery within Christian's story rather than the particulars of its more pedantic, humanist, vehicle. He fuses two parts together: the figures visible on the parapet of the City of Destruction are presumably Christian and the Evangelist; the horizon, illuminated by fiery white light, perhaps presages the Celestial City.
His rendition is given credence by the incorporation of a quote from the Old Testament in his title, which in turn foretells the coming of Christ, the 'Prince of Peace': 'The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined' (Isaiah, 9:2).
Bunyan's narrative, with its intricate language of analogy (Christian encounters the 'Slough of Despond', for example), proved rich fodder for Goodwin's imagination, and suited his inclination towards high drama of an exotic kind (he executed a number of subjects from the Tales from the Arabian Nights.) His travels in Europe, India, Egypt and the South Sea Islands furnished him with a visual vocabulary for scenes of Oriental mystery. Like John Martin (1789-1854), Goodwin achieved his considerable effects by dwarfing his figures within landscapes of terrifying breadth and tumult, such as The passage of the Red Sea (1889; Royal Academy, no. 603, unlocated). In Christian leaving the City of Destruction we see a small scale demonstration of his visionary aesthetic. As a statement of faith, and evocation of the drama of conscience, it holds its own.