Friday, March 12, 2010

Tudeley, Kent

Through the paths of the seas

I usually blog about buildings I’ve seen or visited recently, but today I’m breaking this rule to turn your attention to a church I visited years ago, but which I’ve been reminded of a couple of times in the last few weeks. It’s the church of All Saints, Tudeley and this unassuming building is remarkable because it contains a complete set of twelve windows designed by Marc Chagall.

In 1963, Sarah, the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady d’Avigdor Goldsmid, was killed in a sailing accident at the age of 21. The family commissioned Chagall to create an east window for the church as a memorial to Sarah, and it was installed in 1967. Subsequent commissions led to all the other windows in the building being reglazed with magnificent Chagall glass.

In the east window, a girl floats among blue waves, almost as if cradled on the water. Mourners are beside her, and there is a vision of the Crucifixion and angels above. To the right, a ladder connects the two parts of the scene, and a figure climbs the ladder towards Christ. There’s a tremendous strength here – the figures don’t flirt with sentimentality as Chagall sometimes seems to me to do – and the way the artist has used the shapes of the individual pieces of glass to suggest the swirling waves works superbly. You’d not think that Chagall turned to glass design towards the end of his life. These windows are the work of a master.

The combination of blues and yellows in the east window sets the tone for the rest of the glass, which is predominantly blue, and, in the nave’s south wall, yellow, to invite and complement the sun’s rays. It’s impossible to describe the effect of the Chagall windows, with their birds, figures, and angels. You have to visit the place yourself and experience the visual immersion in blue, and, if you are fortunate, the warming yellow rays of the sun.

Further illumination and interest can also be had from visiting an exhibition, currently on at Mascalls Galley in Paddock Wood, which includes Chagall’s designs for the Tudeley windows and a number of representations of the Crucifixion by British artists from Eric Gill to Tracey Emin.

There is more information about the exhibition here and about the church here.


Peter Ashley said...

Lord Carrot tells me that there are beautiful Chagall lithographs at the Goldmark Gallery.

Neil said...

Chagall seems to me to be an artist whose art strengthened over time. With many artists, and writers, you can discount the later work, but in Chagall's case he saved the best till last. The Chagall Museum in Nice has some beautiful stained glass, in the wall not of a chapel but a concert hall.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Neil: That's interesting, thank you. I'll look at Chagall's art again in the light of what you have said about the later work.

Jon Dudley said...

It's a wonderful spot Philip and you've captured it well. I was there last year and was amazed at how remote the church felt, yet it's cheek by jowl with Tonbridge. beautifully 'airy' stained glass if you know what I mean.

Hels said...

I honestly thought that the only church with windows done by Marc Chagall was the Fraumünster in Zurich. It has four very fine Chagall windows.

How super that you found another, rather smaller and perhaps less central church with fine Chagall windows. But where is Tudeley? And how did the d’Avigdor Goldsmids get Chagall to go there?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: There is also a single Chagall window in Chichester Cathedral and there's a chapel in France, at La Saillant, Limousin, with a suite of windows by him. Also, apparently a synagogue in Jerusalem has a full set of windows by the artist.

Tudeley is near Tonbridge, which is southeast of London. It's a small place, but I guess they enticed Chagall there because they were sincere admirers of his work – Sarah had seen and liked the Jerusalem windows, which had been exhibited in Paris - and because it was a captivating commission. Also, the artist must have felt at one with this part-Jewish, part-Christian family.

Hels said...

Philip, it is interesting that you should mention the history of the Goldsmids. They were of course a very well known family of Jewish merchants, bankers, politicians and philanthropists, but I had discounted that possibility since Sarah was memorialised in a church.

So that raises two conflicting issues. Of course the Goldsmids would have seen Chagall in the Jerusalem hospital and loved his work. Undoubtedly they would have wanted his particularly Jewish sensibility for their much loved daughter's memorial.

On the other hand, the site they chose was a church! And more than that, the Chagall designs explicitly included Christian symbols.

For two of the four sides of Chagall windows in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, see

Who knew that blogging would be such a fine source of great historical and architectural information :)

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Although Sarah's father was Jewish, her mother wasn't. She was an Anglican. Hence the memorial in a church. Chagall was Jewish but used Christian iconography in some of his work, so was the perfect choice. So out of this religious mixture comes wonderful creativity.

Neil said...

Interestingly Chagall always depicts Moses with horns, which is a Christian (specifically Catholic, in the Vulgate Bible) misreading for "radiant".

ArchitectDesign™ said...

these beautiful windows remind me of the ones Chagall did at Union Church in Pocantico hills in Upstate New York State. I wrote a post on them 2 years ago and thought you might enjoy them too. This is not just a shameless plug for my blog!