In 1941, Girard’s attention also turned to depictions of Christ, when he showed his small scaled paintings of the Way of the Cross in Cannes. His solo show in November-December 1944 at New York’s Bignou Gallery featured two rooms. In one was his series of small paintings on The Fourteen Stations of the Cross and in another room, flowers and landscapes of France. Praised for his use of color and light, Girard’s compositions contained strong graphic elements, high contrasts and a rich use of pigment. According to the catalogue: “..his work became more solemn and more moving that ever before. It is a fact that the paintings produced during the years of German oppression bear not only the marks of revolt, but even more, those of prayer.”
Twelve years later, he recalled that when he arrived in New York from England in 1944:
I used to have in my pockets notebooks full of versions of the Stations of the Cross—so much so that when I was sent to America in 1944, I had only with me these pictures. When my art dealer proposed to exhibit them I was astonished. Such a distressing subject, such a limited number of pictures!
His wartime experience found expression through sacred art, and became a new point of departure for his images.
After the war, Girard never returned to drawing political caricatures for the press; instead he opted to make sacred and secular art. He worked in an impressionist style akin to Pierre Bonnard, one of his two teachers, whose shattering of light into gemlike points Girard learned to employ. The other was Georges Rouault. Girard shared Rouault’s use of heavily outlined bodies, but differed by rendering them as angular and bony forms. Ultimately, Girard’s Jesus is born of crisis, a figure that has seen the limits of human fallibility. He is marked by the austerity of war, yet radiates light.
Girard sought to depict the transformative capacity of light to symbolize the presence of the divine and its struggles. Translucent, pale or colorless, the power of light emanates from the body of Christ in his drawings, prints and paintings. The artist symbolized this divine power as an array of lines that surrounded Christ and those who shared this quality. Over the next decade, Girard’s Jesus transformed from an identifiable likeness of the writer Andres Suares to a less specific rendering of Jesus. Their friendship deepened in Antibes during the occupation of Southern France, and they corresponded regularly until Suares’ death in 1948.
The Fourteen Stations of the Cross & Four Windows
St Ann Chapel’s architect Vincent Raney designed a modern church, which features a series of angled panels that line one side, allowing light to penetrate the space indirectly. Girard drew his sketches for the Stations of the Cross on the plaster surface of the panels. Next, the final images were painted on canvas and mounted on the fourteen panels. He donated a series of 14 ink sketches to Stanford University.
The Fourteen Stations of the Cross has its complement in the four stained glass windows at St. Ann Chapel, which are dedicated to the teachings and story of Jesus. Rather than go with traditional methods of stained glass panels, he instead painted directly on the glass. In his correspondence with his patron, Clare Boothe Luce, Girard outlines his reasoning for choosing these methods. Luce financed the chapel’s building as a memorial to her daughter. For her, this project intended to signal that even in the US, there were spaces that proved modernism was compatible with sacred art.
Girard thought of the windows as four sections of a single, enormous work that moved through primary and secondary colors: Yellow, Green, Violet and Red. He chose the colors based on one of the earliest color canons developed by Pope Innocent III in the twelfth century, and by the sixteenth century, the rules were fixed.
Bignou Gallery, Recent Paintings by Andre Girard. Nov-Dec 1944. n/p.
Correspondence, Clare Boothe Luce Papers, Library of Congress.
Andre Girard, Stations of the Cross, handwritten essay, aft 1952. Courtesy Archives An. Girard, Paris.
Michael Kunzler, Church’s Liturgy (Die Liturgie der Kirche, translated by Lit Verlag). NY & London: Continuum International Publishing, (1995) 2001, 132.
Bob Sturia, “New Murals for Student Chapel: Palo Alto Work Will Serve as Luce Memorial.” San Francisco News, Thursday October 23, 1952, Sec.3, p.27.