Archive of sketches and notes by Charles Mahoney for murals in the Chapel at Campion Hall

Item author: Charles Mahony
Item date: c1942
Grant Value: £4,000
Item cost: £4,940
Item date acquired: 2016
Item institution: Campion Hall, University of Oxford
Town/City: Oxford
County: Oxfordshire

A small but fascinating archive of notes and drawings by the painter Charles Mahoney (1903-1968), mostly relating to the murals in the Lady Chapel of Campion Hall, subsidised by Evelyn Waugh, and painted in 1942-52. There is also one sketch in the hand of Sir Edwin Lutyens of an early project for the completion of the projected quadrangle of buildings at Campion Hall and Mahoney has drawn details of drapery on the same sheet, rendering it a compelling record of hopes for the future as envisaged at the end of the 1930s. The Master of Campion Hall, Martin D’Arcy SJ (1888-1976) had chosen Mahoney as the mural painter for the Lady Chapel with the advice of Sir John Rothenstein, after Stanley Spencer (the first choice) had proved too disruptive a personality to work in the Hall over a long period. This archive documents not only the evolution of the mural paintings, but also offers valuable sketches and observations of the daily life of the Hall in the 1940s and early 1950s. As such it complements perfectly the substantial holding of Mahoney letters from the same period already in the archives.

A list of the drawings is as follows:
1.    Ink study of garden at Campion Hall with Evelyn Waugh sketched in the distance
2.    Ink drawings: recto, Fr Burrows and others, study for mural of  Dormition of the Virgin; verso, branch with leaves
3.    Pencil sketch of D’Arcy and students on Graduation Day.
4.    Tracing paper with architectural elevation, for the unbuilt north wing, drawn by Lutyens, and sketch of two feet and drapery by Mahoney.
5.    Full page pencil study for kneeling soldier for Misericordia.
6.    Rough preliminary sketches for Flight into Egypt.
7.    Writing paper with notes and rough sketch of attic room
8.    Ink Foliage study with rough sketch of Campion Hall garden looking north
9.    Two studies of kneeling craftsman on one sheet, for Misericordia.
10.    Charcoal sketch of sitting soldier seen from behind, first version for Misericordia.
11.    Large pencil sketch for Flight into Egypt.
12.    Small sheet of writing paper with rough pencil sketch of mother and child, ink list of Jesuit figures to be represented in mural of Dormition.
13.    Brownish paper charcoal and chalk drawing for kneeling shepherd in Nativity.

This closely focused group of drawings documents the major developments of Mahoney’s scheme for the Lady Chapel, including significant changes of plan: two drawings (6 and 11) document the tightening of the composition of The Flight into Egypt from a broad panorama to a vignette framed by Thames Valley beech branches. Numbers 2 and 7 document the change of plan for the Dormition of the Virgin to a scene including past and present member of the Society of Jesus gathered around the bed. Numbers 5, 9 and 10 are evolving studies for the kneeling figures of soldier, cleric and workmen in the mural of Our Lady of Mercy. Number 13 is a polished study of the kneeling shepherd in the (very wintery and wartime) Nativity. All of the rest of the sketches are drawings of rooms in the Hall and views of its gardens: one informal near-caricature shows D’Arcy and undergraduates setting out for graduation; there is a particularly fine sketch of the Hall gardens with the solid figure of Evelyn Waugh in the middle distance – Waugh has also signed the sheet, which adds further to its quality as the documentation of a moment in the life of an institution which was a significant intellectual and artistic nexus in the cultural life of Britain in the mid-20th century.