Craigie Aitchison 1926-2009

Provenance

With Albemarle Gallery, London
Stanley J. Seeger, 1994
Estate of Stanley J. Seeger
Private Collection

Exhibitions

1987, London, Albemarle Gallery, Craigie Aitchison: Paintings 1982–87, 1 April–1 May 1987, cat. no. 29
2019, London, Piano Nobile, Craigie Aitchison and the Beaux Arts Generation, 14 Nov. 2019 - 29 Jan. 2020, cat. no. 25

Literature

Andrew Lambirth, 'Craigie Aitchison', The Artist's and Illustrator's Magazine, Dec. 1988, p. 15 (illus.)
Andrew Gibbon Williams, Craigie: The Art of Craigie Aitchison, 1996, Canongate Books, pp. 114-116, pl. 79 (col. illus.) (image reversed)
Susan Campbell, Craigie Aitchison and the Beaux Arts Generation, 2019, Piano Nobile Publications, cat. no. 25, pp. 90-91 (col. illus.)
Aitchison once said, ‘The Crucifixion is the most horrific story I’ve ever heard, they were all ganging up against one person. As long as the world exists one should attempt to record that.’ Later in life, Aitchison would tell a story about how a teacher at the Slade, William Townsend, had discouraged him from painting the crucifixion. Townsend rudely suggested that it was too serious for him. This unfair treatment spurred him to defy his critics and make his first paintings of the subject. Aitchison’s sense of justice is the common theme between these two stories, tying together Gospel truth with his experience of being belittled at the Slade.

Though the injustice and horror of the subject may have captivated Aitchison, however, his treatment of the crucifixion suppressed any sense of pain or suffering. The figure on the cross always appears to glow, unblemished, and in Crucifixion 8 a group of three colourful birds offer consolation to the mournful figure. This was one of the largest crucifixions that Aitchison painted in his career, along with Crucifixion 9 (1987, Private Collection), which is slightly smaller at 85 x 72 inches. The great size of the painting allowed Aitchison to harmonise four different colours, in which a horizon-like band of pink appears to glow beside the darker hues of green below and purple-inflected blue above.

Aitchison never intended these works as equivalents to the altarpieces of Piero and Fra Angelico that he saw on his visit to Italy in 1955. He was happy, nevertheless, for his works to be used for that very purpose. He contributed four panels to decorate the Chapel of St Margaret, Truro Cathedral, in 1997, for example, and completed an altarpiece commission of Calvary for Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral in 1998. Crucifixion 8 was one of nine crucifixion paintings executed for a rather more secular context, however: Aitchison’s exhibition at Albemarle Gallery in 1987.