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Christ Androgyne (1943)


This small carefully-painted canvas, given a precious appearance by the large frame around it, uses a Surrealist idiom to express Middleton’s deep unease at the events of the Second World War and the suffering of those caught up in it. By giving Christ female characteristics, he turns the traditional image of the crucified Saviour into a general symbol of all suffering humanity. The painting is a stark and moving metaphor for the times in which it was painted – a period of darkness, desolation and loss. Despite working full-time in his family’s damask designing business until 1947, Middleton managed to establish a successful career as a painter in Belfast. He first began to experiment with Surrealism in 1937; indeed, his Head of 1938 (Ulster Museum) is thought to be the earliest Surrealist painting by any Irish artist. Notoriously eclectic, he moved between a variety of styles, maintaining that his need for such experimentation was a natural reaction to external influences and that the twentieth century, with its many psychological complexes, required an artist to be versatile in manner; for himself, ‘he didn’t try to impose his style on the things he painted, rather … he preferred to allow the subject to impose itself on him’ (Kennedy, Irish Art and Modernism, p. 129).