This is an extraordinary painting, at first sight ugly, but on reflection it reaches beyond ugliness into sombre desolate beauty.
The iconography – a solitary Christ, without the companionship of thieves, without soldiers or spectators, seen almost in profile, dead or at the point of death- is rare, and Whishaw has handled it with fierce concentration, bravely and with compassion.
It compels contemplation of the most Lenten kind, it is Christ scarified, stripped bare…
It is a serious attempt by the painter to understand the Crucifixion and to share that understanding and to me seems utterly sincere; I suspect that like most souls of this generation (and mine), he was deeply affected by the harrowing images of Belsen and Auschwitz.
I have recently spent some hours in the company of Graham Sutherland’s Crucifixion, and am inclined to say that Whishaw's is the more moving image directly to the point.