I continue today with the second part of the Crucifixion paintings, from the 19th to the 20th century.
Yellow Christ (1889)
Albright-Know Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, USA
Nolde Stifftung, Seebull
On February 20, 1912, the painter Emil Nolde wrote to his friend and patron Karl Osthaus, director of the Folkwang Museum in Hagen, concerning an upcoming exhibition there, and announced a major new work:
In the last year I have created a piece consisting of nine biblical pictures that belong together.I finished it during the last few weeks. I thought that I would also send this to you forexhibition. The size of the entire piece: 240cm high, 630cm wide.
On February 28, 1912, he wrote to his long-time friend Hans Fehr about the piece, enclosing a thumbnail sketch of it that shows a large central picture of a crucifixion flanked on either side byfour paintings. Nolde identified the subjects of the eight smaller canvases in writing on thesketch: Holy Night and The Twelve-Year-Old Christ (left above), The Three Magi and TheBetrayal of Christ (left below), Women at the Tomb and Ascension (right above), Resurrectionand Doubting Thomas (right below).2 All nine canvases of this work, known collectively as TheLife of Christ, remain together today in the galleries of the Nolde Foundation, near Seebüll,Germany.
Nolde no doubt recognized that the monumental scheme of The Life of Christ–far larger than any previous work–almost literally hinged on Crucifixion.7 For it he incorporated a symmetrical severity and a solidity of construction well beyond any earlier picture. The three crosses establish the central axis, outer boundaries, and upper edge of the composition. Nolde pushed the figures almost into a single plane very close to the picture’s surface. He reinforced the iconic effect that results with certain aspects of his primitivizing style, mainly angular forms, flat colors, and unworked surfaces….
Of the individual canvases for The Life of Christ, Crucifixion contains the most obvious traces of an interest in Northern Medieval art. Crucifixions from this period frequently include several motifs—all incorporated by Nolde. First, the tortured flesh of Christ, in the form of an emaciated body, prominent wounds, and streams of blood. Grünewald’s Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece is the best known and most extreme example of this type. Second, the followers traditionally stand to the left of the cross and display intense emotions through gesture and physiognomy, often with the Magdalene on her knees and grasping the base of the cross and the Virgin collapsing into the arms of St. John. Third, many contrast the followers on the left with an equally distinct group of executioners and mockers to the right. Nolde even imitated a convention of some Medieval art by enlarging the body of Christ for prominence.
Source: William B. Sieger, Literary Texts and Formal Strategies in Emil Nolde’s Religious Paintings
Crucifixion (early 1920s)
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Musee Picasso, Paris, France
Picasso in addition to the painting (oil on wood) prepared more than ten drawings with ink as “studies” on crucifixion. The Isenheim Altarpiece of Grunewald gave him inspiration and challenge.
White Crucifixion (1938)
Art Institute of Chicago
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion circa 1944
Tate Gallery, London, UK
When this triptych was first exhibited at the end of the war in 1945, it secured Bacon’s reputation. The title relates these horrific beasts to the saints traditionally portrayed at the foot of the cross in religious painting. Bacon even suggested he had intended to paint a larger crucifixion beneath which these would appear.He later related these figures to the Eumenides – the vengeful furies of Greek myth, associating them within a broader mythological tradition. Typically, Bacon drew on a range of sources for these figures, including a photograph purporting to show the materialisation of ectoplasm and the work of Pablo Picasso.
Source: Tate Gallery’s website
Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950)
Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
Major artists create myths around themselves or have the ability to motivate others to do it for them. The way Francis Bacon’s work has been received is coloured by this. The view that at certain moments the person and the work sometime coincide gained increasing emphasis in Bacon’s career, culminating with the feature fi lm Love is the Devil (1998) by John Maybury. There is hardly any other artist whose world is so much a part of his work, and spicy details about his life are happily quoted by biographers and reviewers. Bacon himself refused to go into the interpretation of his paintings and after 1962 even forbid any interpretive comment in catalogues. His argument was that there was not anything to explain. Fragment of a Crucifi xion and the response to Bacon’s work give cause to think about interpretation, biography and autonomy. Do the paintings exemplify a state of mind, or can they be related to views about identity and the male body? Do they represent a post-war view on the world, in which the automation of human interaction can be heard, or do the themes deprive us of an insight into a painter ‘easy on himself’?
Source: Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
Christ of Saint John of the Cross: Nuclear Mysticism (1951)
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
“The title of the painting was said to have been inspired by a drawing made by a Spanish Carmelite friar who was canonised as St John of The Cross in the 16th Century.
It was made after the saint had a vision in which he saw the crucifixion from above.
Dali painted his crucifixion scene set above the rocky harbour of his home village of Port Lligat in Spain. “
Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) (1954)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
Dali commented on his painting:
“Metaphysical, transcendent cubism, it is based entirely on the Treatise on Cubic Form by Juan de Herrera, Philip the 2nd’s architect, builder of the Escorial Palace: it is a treatise inspired by Ars Magna of the Catalonian philosopher and alchemist Raymond Lulle. The cross is formed by an octahedral hypercube. The number nine is identifiable and becomes especially consubstantial with the body of Christ. The extremely noble figure of Gala is the perfect union of the develpment of the hypercubic octahedron on the human level of the cube. She is depicted in front of the Bay of Port Lligat. The most noble beings were painted by Velazques and Zurbaran; I only approach nobility while painting Gala, and noblity can only be insired by the human being.”
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Euskaleria
“Ever since I was a boy I have been obsessed with Velázquez’ Christ in the Prado in Madrid, with his face darkened by the black hair of a Flamenco dancer, with his bullfighter’s feet, with the stillness of a flesh and bone puppet transformed into Adonis. I can even see myself immersed in the hazy museum, holding my father’s hand and looking at the terrible pacific cross, which I remember as something immense”.
The constant presence of the Crucifixion between 1956 and 1996 doesn’t respond to religious belief. It is, in the artist’s own words, a way of looking at the “timeless presence of suffering”.
“Contrary to Velázquez’ Christ, in these works I thought that by giving the image a feeling of tension and protest it was possible to capture a trace of almost blasphemous humour, but there is something else. In the image of the Crucified Christ, I may have reflected my situation of man alone in a threatening universe at which it is possible to shout, although, seen from another angle, I am also interested in the tragedy of a man “not that of a god” absurdly nailed to a cross. An image which can still serve as the tragic symbol of our era”.
Source: Guggenheim Museum’s website