This Crucifixion comes from a series of small-scale depictions of the subject that Aitchison has been painting since the late 1950s. They must be among the purest and most economical renderings of Christ on the Cross that have ever been painted and they certainly include some of the most moving. Christ is sometimes seen against a schematised depiction of hills; at other times, as in this work, there is no specific background at all, simply a backdrop of rich colour. The traditional attendants at the foot of the Cross are never present but Christ is often accompanied by a bird or animal, frequently (as here) one of the artist’s beloved Bedlington terriers: a cross-breed that has been described as having the appearance of a lamb but the heart of a lion. Aitchison has said that these animals are meant to be upset and concerned: as though they have just been walking along and look up and are suddenly amazed and horrified at what they see.
Craigie Aitchison RA, 1926-2009
The son of the Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland, Aitchison spent his early life in Dunbartonshire and on the Island of Arran, where the family owned a holiday house. The Scottish landscape and the Aitchison family's involvement with the Church (his grandfather was a minister) would later find form in his paintings. Around 1950 Aitchison moved to London to study law at the Middle Temple, but he soon turned instead to painting, attending the Slade School of Art from 1952 to 1954. In 1955 he won a British Council scholarship to study in Italy, where the quality of light and landscape profoundly affected his work, as did early Italian art with its simplified depiction of events. After returning to London Aitchison found a style of radically abbreviated forms and strong pastel colouring to which he remains faithful.
Aitchison began exhibiting in London in 1954, and had three one-man shows at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1959, 1960 and 1964. Since then he has exhibited to great success in a number of group and solo exhibitions. His paintings normally feature just one or two simple elements, such as a bird, a vase or a tree, set squarely in the centre of the canvas. Extraneous detail is rigorously edited out; colours are rarely modulated but flatly applied and worked deep into the weave of the canvas. The paintings are never signed on the front, in order not to upset the austere balance of the composition. Aitchison's choice of subject-matter is also highly selective: principally animals, plants, and from 1963, portraits that evoke a pre-industrial age of innocence. He has also produced an important series of crucifixions and nativities.