Selected by Amelia Williamson
DENNIS CREFFIELD, Ely Cathedral from the East, 1989

In 1989 as part of his survey of English medieval cathedrals, Creffield completed this charcoal of the east front of Ely Cathedral. He was commissioned by the Arts Council in 1987 to tour the country attempting the capture the spirit of each medieval cathedral. These works reveal Creffield’s ability to illustrate both the visible and intuitive aspects of his subject through spontaneous and energetic handling of the medium. Working with Creffield’s estate, we are privileged to be able to explore the stores of his work, often unearthing previously unseen and astonishing pieces. Just before lockdown in a storage facility in Cambridgeshire, we were able to find charcoals of the cathedrals of Durham, Bristol and Gloucester.


In my first year of university I had a particularly cold seminar standing in the exact spot outside the east front of Ely Cathedral where Creffield set up his easel. We were told about the combination of various forms of Gothic and Romanesque architecture and how the building dates in parts back to 1083. The densely striated lines to the left of Creffield’s charcoal represent the 13th century Early English architecture, whilst the space created to the right beneath the triangular apex depicts the Lady Chapel, completed later in a Decorated style. The cathedral’s spectacular eclecticism and majesty lends itself well to film sets, including Macbeth (2015), The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) and The King’s Speech (2010). 


Creffield had a particular admiration for Turner, who had in his turn sketched and made watercolours of gothic cathedrals across England, although not the comprehensive survey that Creffield completed. They both depicted the interior of the famous octagonal tower at Ely. However, Creffield did not like how Turner had aggrandised the interior of the church by exaggerating the perspective, stating that it made Ely looks more “like the interior of St Peter’s”. Creffield wanted to “find the human scale of the place. English medieval is dramatic but not melodramatic. The height and mass always feel right with the human body – you never feel crushed.” Rather ironically the octagonal tower itself was a replacement for the previous Norman tower which collapsed in 1322.



Dennis Creffield (British 1931 - 2018)
Ely Cathedral from the East, 1989
Charcoal on paper
41 4/8 x 45 1/8 in
105.5 x 114.5 cm
June 30, 2020