The raising of Lazarus
1964Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.37
Commentary by Francis Hoyland
This is a remarkably faithful painting by a woman who has said 'I can't remember a time when I ever believed.'
She seems to be in rather a similar position to that of Lee-Elliott - faith happened in terms of an image when she was in extremis.
Her extremis seems to have been caused by the death of her much loved father. But I know he is still alive, her picture says to me and surely this 'knowing' is faith - for he could not be alive if he were not encircled by the 'everlasting arms' of Christ which we see to the left and right.
There is a kind of painting loosely and rather misleading called 'primitive' of which the customs officer Rousseau is the greatest example. There are many others: Vivier is one and someone like Alfred Wallis is a marginal case.
This sort of painting does not usually deal with weight and mass but rather with an even spread across the painted surface which is often filled with detail.
The death of such painting would come about through the least pretence, or faux-naivité. There is nothing false here and it achieves a surreal intensity somewhat reminiscent of Magritte.
But why attempt to categorise it at all? It is entirely sincere, the story is very clearly told, it is meticulously done and for such a serious subject great fun. I love the progression from the tomb to the glorified body of Lazarus - incidentally it is a glorified body not a resuscitated one as was that of the historical Lazarus. It is about her father's spiritual state in heaven and as he will be after general resurrection.
I am excited by the movement of the crowd towards us starting from the scattered figures on the distant hill. They are reinforced by the forward drift of the clouds and both seem to be beckoned forward by the gestures of Christ's hands at the same time as these same hands are raising Lazarus.
Mary and Martha pop up out of the crowd with big smiles. Surely one of them must be Euryl Stevens and the other her sister or mother? No, she is not one of the Egyptian animal-headed creatures who do not believe. She could not have painted this picture is she was.