Tuesday 19 November 2019


A guest post by Arthur T...

Split Images of the Queen’s Window in Westminster Abbey

In Craig’s recent posting ‘Mark Easton does it again’ and comments contained in the Open Thread, it is clear that the Westminster Abbey Institute of which BBC’s Home Editor Mark Easton is a member, is set up with its location within SW1 to be at the fulcrum of Monarchy, Church and Parliament. The BBC through Easton have the ear of this elite lobby group. Its function seems to be designed to put forward a range of opinions to MPs as they they go about their everyday business in the Palace of Westminster. 

I am intrigued by the dynamic of Monarchy, Church and Parliament within the Westminster village. The output of conflicting messages cannot be any more telling than in their commissioning and completion of the Queen’s Window in Westminster Abbey last year. 

There is the following story in the BBC News website archive dated 26th September 2018:

‘Westminster Abbey Queen's Window by David Hockney revealed' 

Assuming there is no time-barring on ITBBCB?, this story plays out in support of the earlier article AN AVOWED SILENCE? What qualities made David Hockney a suitable artist to produce stained glass windows to celebrate the Queen’s reign, when he had never worked in glass before? Secondly, what was the brief that led to his choice of subject? 

The BBC News website and News channels made much of the installation of these windows showing photos of Hockney viewing his designs. However, nowhere in the write-up is there a mention of Christianity, or the esteemed place held by Westminster Abbey in the Anglican Church, or of the new windows’ place and relationship with the existing stained glass within Westminster Abbey, and the context which led to the commission. There are no religious symbols, no texts, and importantly, no figurative imagery to celebrate the Christian message. There is nothing to relate these incongruous windows to anything other than the fame of David Hockney, and a window in the north transept where a window had clear glass - which suggested itself as a suitable position for the Queen’s Window. 

The BBC article reads: 
Hockney, who created the design on his iPad, said the hawthorn blossom scene is set in Yorkshire. Westminster Abbey said the result "reflects the Queen as a countrywoman and her widespread delight in, and yearning for, the countryside”. Hockney said: "The iPad is back-lit like a window, it's a natural thing to use.” ”I learnt something about glass. It was a challenge." The Queen has not seen the finished window, but an optimistic Hockney said: "I hope she'll like it. I'm sure she will.”
What an incredibly shallow remark this is: ”reflects the Queen as a countrywoman and her widespread delight in, and yearning for, the countryside”. Is there a hint here that Westminster Abbey through Hockney, an influential voice in the world of art, might be distancing the Queen from the population of London with its open borders? This is where cracks in the dynamic between Monarch, Church and Parliament start to show. The Church have over recent years become much more circumspect in portrayal of the Christian message for fear of alienating other faiths. They have learnt tread so carefully that the image of Christ and other symbols of Christianity have been effectively banned in London especially. 

Parliament, we know, toes the line on every PC ideological nicety. The so-called Westminster bubble which includes the BBC and MSM also conform energetically. 

David Hockney is popular with the BBC. As a pop-artist, it is questionable whether his work is anything other than transitory. Remember Richard Hamilton’s tenets of Pop-art - including gimmicky, In fact, Hockney did not contribute directly to the manufacture of the window in any hands-on practical sense. As might an architect, he sent his digital images of his designs for others to interpret - no doubt with an oversight as work progressed. We learn several of the factors leading up to the commissioning of this work from The Independent: ‘A bright window into David Hockney’s own faith’: 
‘Standing beneath Hockney’s window in Westminster Abbey days later, the Very Rev Dr John R Hall, dean of the church, says he approached Hockney because he was “the most celebrated living artist” and one whose fame coincided with the queen’s reign. He calls the work “absolutely vibrant”, and adds, “It’s very legible, so in that sense it’s very accessible, and I think people will be very excited by it.” He contrasts it with the 19th-century window next to it, representing the miracles of Christ, “so dark it’s almost illegible.”’
Here we have a negative message: ‘the 19th-century window next to it, representing the miracles of Christ, “so dark it’s almost illegible”’. The story-telling of stained glass goes back centuries. “so dark it’s almost illegible” does not cut ice. Spend some money on refurbishing and cleaning!
‘Hockney is not much of a churchgoer. Though his mother was a “keen Christian” and he grew up attending a Methodist chapel, he says, he stopped at age 16 because, “I realised all the people who went to church weren’t really that good; they were hypocrites. That put me off.” Today, he has his own form of faith, he says. “I used to think I was heading for oblivion, and I still really think that,” he says.’ 
‘The onetime bad boy of British art has spent the better part of the past five decades in Los Angeles.’
There are two layers of contradiction about this work. Firstly, Q. why would Westminster Abbey commission a work that has no religious meaning (‘vibrant’ is the description from the Very Rev Dr John R Hall)? A. Could it really be because religious symbols of Christ of this scale are not now acceptable to Westminster Abbey? 

And Q. Why commission Hockney who has neither worked in glass before and has no genuine Christian faith? 

Why does the BBC treat this as an important piece of work and yet fail to define its place within the Christian context of Westminster Abbey? I believe the answer to the latter question is that they will not promote the Christian message, and will not give succour to figurative depiction of Christian themes - particularly not of Christ. 

It’s becoming increasingly evident that the dynamic of Monarchy, Church and Parliament is becoming strained, and that inevitably, the Monarchy will be squeezed - that is what I read into the carefully constructed justification for the Queen’s Window from Hockney: ”reflects the Queen as a countrywoman and her widespread delight in, and yearning for, the countryside”. 

As for the window itself - I think it is dreadful. It is a crudely upscaled image which had been generated by i-Pad software, hardly from the hand of a great artist. John Betjeman would have called it “Ghastly”.


  1. I like Hockney and think he is a genuinely great artist at his best. However, he does seem an odd choice for someone to produce a window at the Abbey. Someone with a more direct association with Christianity and working in glass would have been a better fit.

    1. Yes, I think one of HM's Palace Staterooms would have been a more appropriate position than Westminster Abbey.

  2. Great article and a very interesting read Arthur. I remember seeing the BBC One documentary on its’ making and thinking to myself - what a load of rubbish, they could have done so much better. It was as if the BBC were celebrating the absence of religion.

    If a cathedral commissions new art, it can be successful. The Bossanyi windows in Canterbury and the Graham Sutherland tapestry at Coventry are examples but I suppose they are 50 years old now.

    The article is another reminder and example of the slippery slope this nation is going down with the BBC as propagandist in chief.

    1. Thank you Anon. The Graham Sutherland comparison is a good one. Before his tapestry for Coventry Cathedral, he had painted 'Crucification' at St Matthew's Northampton under the inspired patronage of Walter Hussey. Hussey commissioned Britten, John Piper, WH Auden and Henry Moore to produce original works there.

      Graham Sutherland was given a specific brief for the altarpiece. I believe that in Westminster Abbey, Hockney was given a free hand to such an extent that religious context was deemed irrelevant, as was any need to produce a work which was sympathetic to the Perpendicular style of the church.


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