St John Ogilvie
Archdiocese of Glasgow,
This exhibition charts the process of Peter Howson’s tumultuous journey in painting the momentous portrait of the recently instated Saint of the Catholic Church, John Ogilvie, which now hangs in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of St Andrew’s Cathedral. The artist has stated that he regards the finished painting as “something of a miracle”; during the two year period that it took to complete the finished work, Peter suffered a complete physical breakdown and a prolonged period of depression. He has since likened the experience to being in a war zone and at times felt he would be unable to find the strength to complete the work.
This exhibition therefore represents the challenges faced by the artist – professionally, personally and spiritually – in trying to achieve the finished painting. When Peter began his series of proprietary sketches he had only two or three drawings from which to base his representation of Ogilvie on, but has stated that with the help of books and documents on the Saint – as well as moments of spiritual insight and inspiration, he was able to realize his vision. Peter has expressed that his aim was to represent John Ogilvie the ‘man’ – whom he believed to have been witty and humorous- and, in purely humanistic terms, he set about achieving a face for the saint.
The original commission was set to depict Scotland’s largest ever crowd scene: Peter struggled for nine months with this representation before destroying the entire work. However, he is thrilled with the final painting. This perhaps suggests that in order to achieve the serenity and calm that the final painting undoubtedly evokes; Peter’s struggle was necessary in creating the tranquility of the image and within himself, giving a sense of finality to his journey, akin to the journey endured by John Ogilvie himself.