The grandson of a renowned English painter who created iconic biblical pictures for the walls of St Columba’s Church, Long Tower, has visited Derry, to see for the first time the early work of his grandfather Ambrose McEvoy.
Artist Ambrose McEvoy was commissioned by local priest Father Willie Doherty in 1906 to paint 24 pictures for the Long Tower church.
These include two original paintings which hang above either side of the altar, and the church’s famous replica of Da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Earlier this week his grandson Charles Hett, who has spent his life working in Archaeology, made the journey from his home in Canada to attend the opening of a major exhibition on his grandfather’s work at the Philip Mould & Company gallery in London.
He also used the opportunity to visit Derry where he was given a tour of Long Tower Church by local amateur historian and parishioner Ivor Doherty, with whom he has been corresponding for many years.
Ivor Doherty said it had been a pleasure to meet the grandson of the man responsible for creating the pictures that make the Long Tower the envy of churches across Ireland and the world.
He added: “I have long been fascinated with the origins of the Long Tower church. For parishioners of the Long Tower, there are many things about the church that make it so special, and the Ambrose McEvoy pictures that we see every day are an important part of the story of the Long Tower.
“Charles and I have been in contact for some time and I am delighted to welcome him to the church and the city to see the pictures for himself.”
Charles Hett said it had been a wonderful experience to visit the city with his wife Maricarmen, to see the paintings.
“I never knew my grandfather, as he died 12 years before I was born, and I’ve never been to Derry before, but I have always wanted to visit, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see my grandfather’s work,” he said.
‘ unbelievably beautiful’
“The Long Tower Church is unbelievably beautiful,” he added.
In 1906, Ambrose McEvoy’s commission from the Long Tower church, was the biggest of his life.
Ambrose later went on to become a society portraitist, painting notable figures such as Winston Churchill, Lady Diana Cooper, The Hon. Lois Sturt and Ramsay McDonald.
However, in 1906, Ambrose dedicated himself to the work of the Long Tower, which would take him two years to complete, and necessitate the renting of a large studio in London.
He was asked to produce two original religious paintings depicting the Adoration of the Kings and the Adoration of the Shepherds. He was also asked to supply 18 more pictures (later increased to 22), which were to be copies of various old master pictures illustrating the life of Christ.
These were to be painted on copper and set into the walls all around the nave and body of the church.
These additional pictures were painted by his wife (and Charles’ grandmother) Mary, under the direction of Ambrose, who first had to make up cartoons of the originals and then square them up to the original size.
The paintings included copies of The Marriage of the Blessed Virgin by Raphael, Prayer in the Garden by Guercino, The Visitation by Albertinelli, and Descent of the Holy Ghost by Titian.
Recreating the scene from Da Vinci’s Last Supper proved to be the biggest challenge for the couple, as the copper sheet was so long, a hole had to be cut in their artist’s studio to get the painting in and out.
Described as the “finest piece in the Church” in the book ‘The Story of the Long Tower’ by P.J.F., the Last Supper is a copy of oils on copper and occupies the entire breadth of the end wall between the two sanctuary doors.
The Last Supper piece was proclaimed to be a huge success when it finally arrived in Derry and workmen were said to have fallen on their faces in awe when they removed it from its casing for the first time.
The work of Ambrose McEvoy will be exhibited in London until the end of January 2020, and includes many pieces on loan from galleries across the world, and from private collections.
However, for local people wishing to see his work, his paintings are permanently on display in the Long Tower Church.