Excerpt from Lecture No. 3
Delivered by Petrine Archer-Straw - 4th December, 1985
As we view the vast body of work created by Carl Abrahams and, in
particular, the masterpiece of the National Gallery's collection, "The Last
Supper" painted originally in 1955, it becomes apparent that here is an artist
inspired by religious conviction and by his careful reading of Old and New Testament
src="files/ps/images/_cabrahams.jpg" alt="CAbrahams.jpg" width="150" height="113" align="left" />"The Last Supper", painted in 1955, although the
first of three renditions of this time honoured event epitomises the life work of this
artist Carl Abrahams. For in this work we see the coming together of two facets of
Abrahams' abilities - the facility to paint and the facility to interpret and speak to his
audience in a visual form which even the layman can understand.
The scene is a familiar one: Christ surrounded by his
disciples shares a last meal, a meal full of such meaning and symbolism that this
communion has enacted a million times over. Yet, the solemnity of the meal is overshadowed
by the drama which follows when Christ announces knowledge of his betrayal. In shock,
fear, jealousy, rage, and sorrow, the disciples are depicted, displaying a range of
emotions as they turn one to another to consider this announcement.
The setting, as well as the colour is spare - muted shades
of grey, with occasional pink and blue highlights are explored to capture an atmosphere of
intensity and impending gloom. But the sparity of colour and background feature seem
intentional as the viewer is impelled towards the faces of the actors in this scene. For
here Abrahams comes into his own as the painter unparalleled in Jamaican painting as he
documents the personalities of the disciples who surround Jesus. All twelve are depicted
possessing individual qualities, but it is the viewer who is ultimately left to decide who
is the betrayer.
Yet, it is Abrahams' portrayal of Christ which is most
moving. Christ attended by his devoted Peter, almost recedes into the background of this
painting; He has no part in this discussion which so animates the disciples. He appears so
deplete of the mortal energies which revel in condemnation and accusation of sin.
Abrahams' every brushstroke supports this; the painting very expressively painted, certain
quick, brushstrokes document the various expressions on the faces of the twelve,
spontaneity of response is evoked, yet this haste is not apparent in the paint Christ
image. This Christ figure obviously more considered than the others, is captured in
response - hand folded and constrained, eyes cast downwards and the shoulders somewhat
hunched . Christ is no longer a partaker, of this meal, he is preparing himself for the
This scene of the "Last Supper" is but one
instance in the unfolding narrative in Jesus' life which Abrahams, in his career as an
artist, has documented. This work in 1955 was to instigate a body of religious works, some
of the most moving, belong to his depiction of the passion.