Object of the Month April 2017

Deposition of Christ from the Cross is an oil on canvas painting by Royal Academician and former Brother of the Charterhouse Robert Medley. The work can be viewed in the chapel cloister to the left of the entrance to the chapel.

The inspiration for this piece is The Descent from the Cross by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). The original hangs in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium. A smaller version of this work can be viewed in the Courtauld Gallery in London. This smaller piece would have originally been presented to the guild and the cathedral custodians for approval before work started on the larger altarpiece.

The artist, Robert Medley, was educated at Gresham’s School, Norfolk and studied at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art (1924-26). Former alumni of the school include Richard Hamilton, Eduardo Paolozzi and Antony Gormley. It was while studying here that Medley met Roger Fry and Duncan Grant of the Bloomsbury Group. After leaving Slade Medley was assistant to Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell between 1929 and 1934.

His first solo exhibition was held in 1932, and throughout this time he worked in various avant-garde styles. In the middle of the 1930s he began to move away from the ideals of the Bloomsbury set. Around this period, Medley became friends with the artists Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, John Piper and another former Slade student Paul Nash. It was during this period that he began to paint in abstract form, a departure from the figurative works which he was known for.

In the 1940s he served as an official war artist during World War Two. Some of these works are held in the collection of the Imperial War Museum. His work is also represented in the collections of the V&A and Tate. After the war and throughout the 1950s and 1960s he returned to teach at the Slade as well as the Camberwell School of Arts.

Medley continued to paint throughout his life. In the 1960s he turned towards a more hard-edge abstraction that reflected his desire for order and structure in painting. Medley reflected on his abstractions as ‘metaphors for actual visual experience’.

During his later years, he returned to figurative painting; Deposition of Christ from the Cross is one such example of Medleys later figurative works.
In 1984, a retrospective of some of his work was held at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford and in the year of his death another exhibition was held at the Coram Gallery, London. His work is still shown today and Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists, part of his cyclist series of paintings created in the 1950s, can be seen in Tate Britain’s current exhibition Queer British Art 1861-1967.

Medley was awarded the CBE in 1982 and was admitted as a Brother of the Charterhouse in 1984, where he remained until his death in October 1994.

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