Waugh’s Murals

The Tablet carries an interesting story of how the murals in the Lady Chapel at Campion Hall, Oxford came to be painted. They were funded from the sale of Waugh’s biography, Edmund Campion, although Waugh himself had no role in choosing the artist. That decision was in the hands of Fr. Martin D’Arcy who, according to The Tablet

was on a mission to correct what he felt was an unfair perception of the Jesuits as lacking in artistic taste, and hoped the Lady Chapel murals might contribute.

D’Arcy started out well by taking expert advice and then acted on it by hiring Stanley Spencer. But Spencer turned out to be too eccentric to his liking, so he was sacked and replaced by Charles Mahoney. While The Tablet defends Mahoney’s craftsmanship, the choice seems ironically to have confirmed the point D’Arcy had set out to disprove. The Jesuits simply couldn’t abide the brilliant and original but eccentric and uncontrollable Spencer. They could have had murals by one of the most noteworthy 20th English painters and instead got something beautiful of its kind but of no particular artistic importance.

On the other hand, what Spencer painted could well have proved to be controversial. While Waugh was not apparently consulted in the matter, his views may well have coincided with those of D’Arcy. In his Diaries (pp.  746-47) he mentions visiting a 1955 exhibit of Spencer’s paintings at the Tate and found them

realistic and proletarian, with the remnants of nineteenth-century nonconformity such as Betjeman has popularized.

Not necessarily something Waugh disliked, but perhaps not the sort of thing that would fit comfortably on the walls of a Roman Catholic Chapel.

Thanks to Robert Murray Davis for sharing this article with us.

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