Christ’s stunning appearance in The Rubbish Dump, A Black Country Altarpiece. His stunning appearance is Allen’s suggestion is that the world without Christ is a wasteland; urban life is wayward, and industry pollutes. It is unclear if the roiling clouds suggest an approaching apocalype.. The subject is an inversion of the medieval garden or hortus conclusus, an allegorical medieval garden extolling Christian virtue.
The rubbish dump and the smoke of the Blackpool factories support Allen’s disapproval of modern Britain’s degeneration. Allen is telling that civilization needs a Christian resurrection.
In 1922, T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land portrayed England in a moral quandary; thirty-three years later, Allen reinforces the notion for a necessary Christian revival because the painting was intended as an altarpiece for an Anglican Church. The Black Country Industrial Mission in Wolverhampton, based at St. George’s Vicarage. Ironically the church was unsuccessful; the building was abandoned in the 1960s, and when restored, used by Saintsbury’s for storage. There is no record of how the painting was received, and it dropped from sight and was not exhibited until 2008. *
Presumably, couple picnicking in the dump suggests nowhere else to enjoy time away from life in the cities. But it is utterly unpicnicky. There is no grass, no shade, and no burbling stream. Allen’s message is no luncheon on the grass in a fallen world polluted by its industrial evil. If it is a god-awful world, it is only the prospect of Jesus who will provide a reminder of loss and redemption, or perhaps, a return to a better world suggested by the idea of a picnic.
* It’s unclear if the painting was ever installed in St. George’s.
Featured Image: George Warner Allen. The Rubbish Dump, A Black Country Altarpiece (1955), oil on canvas. Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Wolverhampton, GB. Estate of George Warner Allen