Charles Mahoney – Girl Praying, Study for ‘Campion Hall’, Late 1940s


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Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper, squared with blue crayon, framed and glazed. This drawing is a study for a mural painted by Mahoney for the Lady Chapel at Campion Hall, Oxford. Provenance: Collection of John Sergeant (1937-2010).

Image: 13 x 7 in. (33 x 17.8 cm.)
Frame: 22 1/2 x 16 1/8 in. (57 x 41 cm.)


Mahoney was commissioned to produce a mural scheme for the Lady Chapel at Campion Hall in 1941. The scheme was to be made up primarily of three large panels: the Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds, the Coronation of the Virgin, and Our Lady of Mercy. In detail and composition, the paintings owe much to early Italian examples.

Electing to paint directly onto canvas fixed to the walls and by daylight hours only, the project inevitably became drawn out and Mahoney could only work in situ during the Easter and summer vacations when he was not teaching. The project continued into the following decade and coincided with a serious decline in the artist’s physical health. In spite of these problems, Sir John Rothenstein, who chose to reproduce one of the murals as a plate in British Art since 1900 (1962, pl.60), was moved to describe the scheme as second …only to that by Stanley Spencer at Burghclere.

Campion Hall is one of the Permanent Private Halls of the University of Oxford in England. It is run by the Society of Jesus and named after St. Edmund Campion, a martyr and Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. The murals are largely indebted to Fr. Martin D’Arcy, 6th Master of Campion who first invited the celebrated artist Stanley Spencer to consider taking on the Lady Chapel project, but Spencer proved himself eccentric and unpredictable. D’Arcy’s friend, Sir John Rothenstein, Director of the Tate Gallery, recommended a promising young teacher at the Royal College of Art, Charles Mahoney (1903-1968), who already had several murals to his credit. (These were later destroyed during the Second World War). Mahoney enthusiastically accepted the commission, and his working relationship with Campion Hall would continue for ten years, resulting in a set of richly coloured and detailed murals portraying the life of Our Blessed Lady which constitutes one of the most splendid and engaging treasures in Campion Hall.


Mahoney, Charles (1903-1968)

Painter, muralist, draughtsman and teacher. Born Cyril Mahoney in London - his fellow-student Barnett Freedman re-christened him Charlie at the Royal College of Art, which he attended 1922-6 after a period at Beckenham School of Art under Percy Jowett. Early on, Mahoney established a reputation as a conscientious teacher. He was at the Royal College 1928-53, from 1948-53 as a painting tutor, and was noted there for his concern for academic discipline. His portrait is included in Rodrigo Moynihan's celebrated Teaching Staff of the Painting School at the Royal College of Art, 1949-50. From 1954 to 1963 he taught at the Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting and from 1961 to 1968 at the Royal Academy Schools. He painted murals at Morley College 1928-30 with his colleagues Eric Ravillious and Edward Bawden. Unfortunately these murals were destroyed during World War II. The work led to further murals: at Brockley School, Kent, with Evelyn Dunbar; and at Campion Hall Lady Chapel, Oxford. His oil paintings are frequently of a religious nature. He was a skilled botanist, and many of his drawings depict his garden at Wrotham, Kent. He exhibited at NEAC and the RA, being made an RA elect in 1968. He is represented in the Tate Gallery and other public collections. The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, held a memorial exhibition in 1975. Exhibitions were held in 2000 at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, Royal Museum and Art Gallery, Canterbury, and the Fine Art Society plc in association with Liss Fine Art.