My Favourite Painting: Jeanette Winterson

'I find in this image an iconic and meditative power that penetrates the noisy layer of the mind'

Crucifixion, 2001, by Craigie Aitchison (born 1926), private collection. Bridgeman Images.

Jeanette Winterson says:
‘I love this painting. Religious painting that is not creepy or sentimental is hard to do these days. But I find in this image an iconic and meditative power that penetrates the noisy layer of the mind and lets in peace. It is simple, moving and beautiful. It is the place of loss and beginning again.’

Jeanette Winterson is an award-winning novelist. Her two latest books, both for children, are The Lion, The Unicorn and Me (a picture book) and The Battle of the Sun (fiction).

Art critic John McEwen comments:
‘Craigie Aitchison’s formidable reputation is based on portraits, still lifes, landscapes, his pet Bedlington terriers and the most revered subject in western art, the Crucifixions, of which he is a rare modern master. His Crucifixion paintings can be seen in the Anglican cathedrals of Truro and Liverpool, but, although a believer, he thinks ‘it would be a cheek’ to call himself a religious painter. As for the exalted subject: ‘To me it’s telling a story about this horrific thing that happened, so it’s always exciting to try and do.’ Above all, ‘it’s a painting, I have to get it to work’.

This Crucifixion was the first showing a Bedlington with a raised paw. ‘The most important thing in the picture when I was doing it was the paw. People think it’s easy, but it jolly well isn’t, at least, not for me. I mean, in this game, you know what you can do and what you can’t do. The terrier is looking amazed. He’s got his paw up because he’s worried about what’s happened.’ Christ is comforted by two birds.

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Mr Aitchison used to keep canaries, which flew free in the room where he painted. He paints the land red and leaves out one of Christ’s arms. When he was a student, he asked his fellow painter, the late Victor Willing, about leaving things out. ‘Vic said: “Why paint what you don’t want to?” I learnt a helluva lot from that. Art’s a selfish activity and you do what you like.’

This article was first published in Country Life, December 2, 2009