Good Friday ~ Nikolai Ghe

If you are in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, you’ll find it’s laid out in a labyrinth of side rooms and galleries, which works very well. It’s a great museum, and unlike the Louvre, it doesn’t take a week to go round it.

One effect of this though is the sudden exposure to paintings, rather than approaching them in a long airy gallery, and that’s what you get with Nikolai Ghe‘s stunning crucifixion painting, Le Calvaire.

Ghe (or Gay) was a Russian of French descent who turned to religious works later in his career, including this remarkable portrait of Judas, also called ‘Conscience’. you can just make out his companions on the far right. Self exclusion by wrongdoing is a very painful thing.

Conscience, or Judas. 1893, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Conscience, or Judas. 1893, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The masterpiece though is Le Calvaire, and the first glimpse  through a doorway is stunning in its impact. The Musee d’Orsay staff are the most zealous I’ve come across for pictures, insisting you delete them off your phone, but here it is


The painting is hard to appreciate fully being so high off the floor, but it really does capture the bleakness and the otherness of Calvary. Ghe has been criticised for an irreligious approach to his religious works, supposedly based on historical fact and theory, rather than belief. Whatever the truth of that is, this painting is imbued with something much more than figurative skill.

Le Calvaire, 1892. Musee d'Orsay
Le Calvaire, 1892. Musee d’Orsay

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