art stanley

Stanley Spencer

Sir Stanley Spencer (30 June 189114 December 1959) was an English painter. Much of his greatest work depicts Biblical scenes, from miracles to Crucifixion, happening not in the Holy Land but in the small village where he was born and spent most of his life; fellow-villagers frequently stand in for their Gospel counterparts, lending on occasion Christian teachings an eerie immediacy.


Early life

Spencer was born and lived in the Thames-side village of Cookham in Berkshire. The Methodist Chapel in Cookham, which he attended, is now the Stanley Spencer Gallery, a gallery dedicated to his art which holds over 100 items of his work and has two exhibitions a year. His father was William Spencer, a music teacher. His younger brother, Gilbert Spencer (1892-1979), was also a talented painter of landscapes.

From 1908 to 1912, Spencer studied at the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL London, under Henry Tonks and others. His contemporaries at the Slade included Dora Carrington, Isaac Rosenberg and David Bomberg. Spencer's attachment to his home was so strong that he commuted from Cookham to the Slade, earning the nickname "Cookham" from other students. His house is located near Cookham Rise Primary school, and is currently still used for residential purposes.

War service

In 1914 Spencer began his service in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War. In 1916 he was sent out to Greece under the command of the 68th Field Ambulance unit. At the ending of the war in 1918 Spencer was asked to paint a work as a war artist for a Hall of Remembrance, a painting which was based on his own experiences and which became "Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916". Between the wars, Spencer received a lengthy commission to paint a large war memorial mural, which eventually included his "Resurrection of the Soldiers" altarpiece at the Sandham Memorial Chapel.

Spencer served as a War Artist in the Second World War, most famously depicting shipbuilding on the Clyde. After the war ended in 1945, Spencer turned to more visionary work, as did many British neo-romantic painters and artists.

Later years

In 1925, Spencer married art student Hilda Carline. Daughter, Shirin, was born in November of the same year; their second daughter, Unity, was born in 1930. Carline divorced Spencer in 1937. A week later, Spencer married artist Patricia Preece. After Spencer’s marriage with Preece fell apart, Spencer visited Carline and that continued throughout her mental breakdown, until her November 1950 death from cancer.

"The small man with twinkling eyes and shaggy grey hair (often wearing his pyjamas under his suit if it was cold) became a familiar sight wandering the lanes of Cookham pushing the old pram in which he carried his canvas and easel." Spencer was knighted in 1959. He died of cancer at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire in the same year.


Spencer developed a naïve style, influenced in part by Giotto and the colourful primitivism of Paul Gauguin.

He held deep Christian beliefs, and many of his works were intensely religious in nature. Many, such as The Resurrection, Cookham (1923–27), set biblical scenes in Cookham and depicted the villagers as characters.

Today these works can fetch immense sums at auction, but during his lifetime his landscapes were more successful commercially, so Spencer was on occasion pressurised into painting them by his dealer.

His most ambitious work, a cycle of 19 paintings charting his experience of the Great War, took five years to complete, and can now be seen at Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere.


In November 2006, the Imperial War Museum asked Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to lead a campaign to fund restoration of Spencer's works focusing on the shipyards of Glasgow, and select other works including Cookham. Ferguson agreed, as his father, brother and an uncle had all worked in the yards at the time of Spencer's painting.


Further reading

  • Anthony d'Offay (Firm), Stanley Spencer, and Hilda Spencer. Stanley and Hilda Spencer. London: Anthony d'Offay, 1978.
  • Art: Stanley Spencer, Eccentric. Newsweek. 130, no. 20: 92. 1997
  • Bell, Keith, and Stanley Spencer. Stanley Spencer: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings. London: Phaidon Press, 1993. ISBN 0810938367
  • Glew, Adrian. Stanley Spencer Letters and Writings. London: Tate Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1854373501
  • Hauser, Kitty, and Stanley Spencer. Stanley Spencer. British artists. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. ISBN 0691090246
  • Pople, Kenneth. Stanley Spencer: A Biography. London: Collins, 1991. ISBN 0002153203
  • Robinson, Duncan. Stanley Spencer. Oxford: Phaidon, 1990. ISBN 0714826162
  • Shepherd, Rosemary. Stanley Spencer and Women. [S.l.]: Ardent Art Publications, 2001.
  • Spencer, Stanley. A Guided Walk Round Stanley Spencer's Cookham. [Cookham?]: Estate of Stanley Spencer, 1994.
  • Spencer, Stanley, and Fiona MacCarthy. Stanley Spencer: An English Vision. [New Haven, Conn.]: Yale University Press in association with the British Council and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1997. ISBN 0300074263
  • Spencer, Stanley, and Gilbert Spencer. Gilbert and Stanley Spencer in Cookham: An Exhibition at the Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham 14 May - 31 August 1988. Cookham: Stanley Spencer Gallery, 1988.
  • Spencer, Stanley, and John Rothenstein. Stanley Spencer, the Man: Correspondence and Reminiscences. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1979. ISBN 0821404318
  • Thomas, Alison, and Timothy Wilcox. The Art of Hilda Carline: Mrs. Stanley Spencer. London: Usher Gallery, 1999. ISBN 0853317763

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