The Return of the Prodigal Son

Published on 29 Nov 2017

edited by Tim McEvoy

Earlier this year St Beuno’s acquired a print of the painting The Return of the Prodigal Son by the artist Ghislaine Howard. The eagle-eyed among you who have visited us recently may have noticed it in its new home in the first side chapel that you come to inside the Main Chapel. A striking take on a familiar theme, it is one of thirteen new paintings by the artist which was recently on display at St Ann’s Manchester as part of the exhibition Passion Art. By way of an introduction to this latest work of art on display in the house and in the hope that many of you will have the chance to experience it in person on your next retreat, here are some of the artist’s own words about her painting drawn from her website -

‘The idea of painting The Return of the Prodigal Son was an enormous challenge – how to recreate a subject already given such magisterial form by Rembrandt and the great Russian film director, Andrei Tarkovski. It is a subject that is perhaps the very centre of everything I do; it goes straight to the heart of what it is to be human – our weakness and our strengths. It embodies the silence of the moment of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption – in a word, compassion.

I have chosen the moment when the son sinks to his knees, received by his father with an unquestioning and urgent embrace. I hope the painting captures something of the words of the poet Rilke, who described love as “two solitudes [that] protect and border and greet each other”.

The emotional impact of the figures is expressed by the movement of their bodies as they come together in a single embrace; their feelings are carried within their bodies, but given outward expression for us to share.

I am drawn to paint human experiences and find inspiration where I can. I have owed much to working with different institutions and communities such as hospitals, prisons and theatres including ‘Acting on Impulse’, a group whose aim is to give homeless and marginalised people a voice through film and theatre.

Crucial too is my practice of producing daily paintings from the news media. These have helped me to discover the telling gesture: meetings, departures, the embrace of love or support and the silent eloquence and expressive power of the human body.’

Ghislaine Howard

Our hope at St Beuno’s is that Howard’s emotional and deeply human interpretation of The Return of the Prodigal Son may provide inspiration for future retreatants and a space for encounter with the God who was surely at work in its creation.