Lot 109
  • 109


30,000 - 50,000 GBP
37,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Craigie Aitchison, R.A.
  • Donkey
  • oil on canvas
  • 76 by 63.5cm., 30 by 25in.
  • Executed in 1993.


Thomas Gibson Fine Art Ltd, London


London, Thomas Gibson Fine Art Ltd, Craigie Aitchison: New Paintings, 1 October - 6 November 1993, illustrated, un-numbered exhibition


Jeffrey Archer, The First Miracle, with Paintings by Craigie Aitchison, 2nd ed., London, 1994, illustrated p.17
Andrew Gibbon Williams, Craigie: The Art of Craigie Aitchison, Edinburgh, 1996, cat. no.106, illustrated p.146 
Cate Haste, Craigie Aitchison: A Life in Colour, Farnham, 2014, illustrated p.168

Catalogue Note

In 1992, beloved Scottish painter Craigie Aitchison was asked by the Tate to decorate their Christmas tree. Relishing the invitation, Craigie focused on the animals of the nativity, including a ‘polystyrene donkey carrying presents on its back, four black polystyrene sheep wandering round the tree base, strings of flowers and illuminated pink and blue canaries. The donkey was an afterthought which finished up being "more important than the tree", he told John McEwen. "I’ve got plans for him. I’m mad on him."’ (Cate Haste, Craigie Aitchison: A Life in Colour, Farnham, 2014, p.168) (fig. 1).

The donkey did indeed make a re-appearance, in the present work, Donkey, produced the following year. In a dark landscape with purple sky, a lone donkey laden with presents stands by a leafless tree with a handful of bright blue birds perched on a branch. The donkey’s lead hangs loose and one flower on a stem rests behind the animal. A single delicate star shines in the night sky; one imagines the star over Bethlehem guiding visitors to the nativity scene. Though dusky and shadowy, the work is luminescent, hot pinks suffusing the background and outlining the tree and donkey. Craigie’s use of paint is always sparse, almost puritanical; the surfaces of his paintings enticingly dry though the palette rich and luscious. As with so many of Craigie’s works, religion is implied through composition and atmosphere: ‘The vocabulary of his Crucifixion imagery is unmistakeable – but without the cross. The rich density of the layered colours – the rose overpainted with Prussian blue, the blue edged in white – adds to the picture’s mysterious, melancholy charge.’ (ibid). Though not a churchgoer, Aitchison was introduced to religion by his father. His visit to Italy in 1955 as a result of his British Council scholarship confirmed his delight in the exuberance of the Catholic churches and the vibrant colours in the iconography of religion. Despite the popularity of the Crucifixion scene in art history, Aitchison, in his simplification of the subject and arrangement of colour, found an originally fresh way of telling his story of Christ’s death.

The year after Craigie painted Donkey, politician and author Jeffrey Archer approached Craigie to illustrate a Christmas book for children, The First Miracle. The book had been written many years previously but Craigie’s illustrations, including the present work, transformed it into a work of art in and of itself, populated by Craigie’s recent religious works, which, as Andrew Gibbon Williams writes, ‘succeed in bridging the gap that has persisted since the advent of the modern movement between art and, in Western culture at least, its original raison d’etre, Christian belief.’ (Andrew Gibbon Williams, Craigie: The Art of Craigie Aitchison, Edinburgh, 1996, p.146).