Geoffrey Clarke

Crucifixion

1954

Medium
Aquatint on paper
Dimensions
Image: 410 x 295 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented anonymously 1974
Reference
P01011

Display caption

According to the artist, this image was 'the nearest I ever came to representational distortion of the human figure.' Clarke rarely depicted the Crucifixion. He was more interested in the idea of the Cross as a symbol, than in depicting the physical fact of the Crucifixion. The inspiration for this image was a black and white reproduction of the Isenheim Crucifixion at Colmar in Alsace, painted by Matthias Grünewald and completed in 1515. Clarke noted the use by Grünewald of a twisted, very distorted image to convey the full horror of the subject.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

Geoffrey Clarke b.1924

P01011 Crucifixion 1954

Inscribed ‘2/25 1954’ b.l.; ‘C’ in the plate and ‘Clarke’ b.r.
Sugar aquatint, 16¿ x 11 ½ (40.4 x 29.2) on paper 23 x 18 3/16 (58.4 x 46.2).
Presented anonymously 1974.

For ‘Crucifixion’ the artist used an aquatint ground on a steel plate. PR324 is one of possibly three prints extant, the plate having been cut up and destroyed in error.

The artist wrote that this was ‘the nearest I ever came (since student days) to representational distortion of the human figure.’ While discussing symbolism in his thesis (loc. cit.) Clarke wrote: ‘The more vividly the symbol can be recognized, the more people can gain from seeing it, for example the Cross; but the more realistic the symbol, the more away from the truth and concerned with the physical it becomes, for example the Crucifix.’ He confirmed this stance in his letter (August 18): ‘The Cross is more important than the Crucifix. The Crucifix has never been important to me.’ This print, therefore, was probably his only depiction of the Crucifixion as such (besides its automatic inclusion in the Stations of the Cross sculptures), and the background to it was described in the same letter. ‘The inspiration and model was a black and white reproduction of Matthias Grünewald’s “Crucifixion” (Colmar) which Clarke used to pass daily on [his] way up to the Coventry stained glass studio at the Royal College of Art.’ He felt that if the Crucifixion was to be depicted ‘that was the way to do it.’ He continued: ‘The understandable distortion through actual suffering of the man on the cross is mild and this becomes twisted, distorted and exaggerated to get over the message, the impact, the non-representational;—the perfect machine-made cube is also mild and without emphasis, but take away the machines and make the cube and that cube takes on life—and its life is exaggerated by controlled distortion.’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.