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Saturday, 16 July 2016

Artists of the last century artistically wrestling with the Crucifixion

The latest ArtWay meditation is by Sandra Bowden who has organised an exhibition centred on the work she explores in her meditation, Modern Crucifixion by Frederick Wright.

She write: "For centuries artists have imagined the crucifixion not only as a biblical narrative, but also as an event happening in their own historical context. This strategy of depicting the crucifixion in contemporary terms, both makes Christ more directly present in the time and place of the contemporary viewer and employs the crucifixion as a point of reference for critically understanding modern life. Working in the early 1930s, Frederick Wight imagined the crucifixion as happening in Chatham, MA, USA with the sea-faring folk of the town that he knew."

In the exhibition Bowden explores other modern crucifixions noting that:

"By the end of the 19th century, artists viewed the Crucifixion through the lens of the Academy and many of the works had become banal, lacking the intensity that it merited. Thomas EakinsCrucifixion, painted in 1880, was seen by many as an academic exercise to portray Christ as realistically as possible, but with little religious feeling. Also in the late 19th century, Gauguin’s Yellow Crucifixion places the event in the countryside of Brittany. Three women near the cross are wearing the typical peasant dress and the entire scene, including the body of Christ, are cast in yellow tones of the season’s harvest. Time and again artists have placed the crucifixion and those present at the event against a local background and dressed in the apparel of the day.

The Crucifixion continues to appear as a theme during the 20th century, but with a renewed perspective. German Expressionist artist Emil Nolde was fascinated by the expressive intensity of the Isenheim Altarpiece and created his own version with a stylistic fusion of primitive forms and the exaggerated colors of the Fauves. Salvador Dali famously painted his Crucifixion representing the cross as a hypercube. Marc Chagall, a Jewish artist, broke with his religious tradition to paint several crucifixions, one of which is in this exhibition. Stanley Spencer, an English painter, set his biblical stories in his home village with local people filling the scene much like Frederick Wight has done in his Modern Crucifixion." 

This exhibition has similarities to the Cross Purposes exhibition organised by Mascalls Gallery and Ben Uri Gallery which included Santiago Bell, Susan Shaw, Maggie Hambling and Craigie Aitchison. Centering on Chagall's drawings for the windows of Tudeley Parish Church, this exhibition explored the uses of the crucifixion by a broad range of artists featuring the work of many artists including Stanley Spencer, Graham Sutherland, and Eric Gill. The exhibition addressed both meditative religious works as well as more horrific secular works and thereby demonstrated the breadth of modern treatments of the crucifixion.


James Macmillan - Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.

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