ONE of the most celebrated paintings of the 20th Century has gone on display in Bishop Auckland.

The work by the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali shows Christ hanging painfully from the cross.

It is on loan to the Spanish Gallery in the Market Place until December 4, and it is deliberately positioned alongside a take on the same scene by El Greco, another renowned Spanish artist, which was painted 350 years earlier.

“This generous loan gives us an opportunity for putting the same image from today’s world with that of the past and ask the question: are they really paintings of the same thing?” said Jonathan Ruffer, the founder of the Auckland Project which is using the religious history of the town to provide future economic regeneration.

Dali had a Hollywood stuntman suspended from a gantry so that he could study how the body would hang, pulled down by gravity, while he was doing his painting in 1951 at his home in Catalonia in Spain. By giving the view looking down on the body, the viewer can feel how the crucifixion painfully pulled on the body.

Dali said of his piece: “I want to paint a Christ that is a painting with more beauty and joy than has ever been painted before.”

The year after the work was completed, it was controversially bought by Glasgow Corporation to go in its Kelvingrove gallery, where it has hung ever since. Even its critics admit it is the best 20th Century depiction of the scene, and in 2006 it was voted Scotland’s favourite painting.

El Greco’s Christ on the Cross was painted around 1600 in Spain, and the artist gives the viewer a full frontal approach so that they come face to face with Christ’s suffering. It is the first time in more than 200 years that the work has been on public display as it has a private owner.

By contrast, Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross is always on view to the public, but it has never been seen in the North East before.

Duncan Dornan, Glasgow Life’s Head of Museums and Collections, said: “Displaying our treasured painting in this new way enables us to widen our understanding of the incredible artist who painted this iconic artwork, which remains a favourite with Glaswegians and visitors to the city.”

The Northern Echo: The Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross which is on display in the Spanish Gallery Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT