'Christ and the Magdalen', Arthur Hacker
Oil on canvas, painted in 1890
Acc. No. WAG 2951
At the start of his career Hacker specialised in scenes depicting the poor and country life, but later he concentrated on literary and religious themes. Here, realism and spirituality are blended, as was recognised by critics when the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1891. Particularly commented on was the artist’s treatment of the figure of Christ, mean and even emaciated.
Although the scene is set in the carpenter’s shop where Christ worked as a young man, the Bible makes no mention of him ever meeting Mary Magdalen there. Hacker appears therefore to have invented the episode or re-staged one from later in Christ’s life, as if to draw attention to his artistic freedom to manipulate sources, no matter how supposedly sacred they might be.