Stanley Spencer
Overview
Sir
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

 Stanley Spencer (30 June 1891 – 14 December 1959) was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

. Much of his work depicts Biblical scenes, from miracle
Miracle
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

s to Crucifixion
Crucifixion
Crucifixion is an ancient method of painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead...

, happening not in the Holy Land
Holy Land
The Holy Land is a term which in Judaism refers to the Kingdom of Israel as defined in the Tanakh. For Jews, the Land's identifiction of being Holy is defined in Judaism by its differentiation from other lands by virtue of the practice of Judaism often possible only in the Land of Israel...

 but in the small Thames-side
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 village where he was born and spent most of his life. He referred to Cookham
Cookham
Cookham is a village and civil parish in the north-easternmost corner of Berkshire in England, on the River Thames, notable as the home of the artist Stanley Spencer. It lies north of Maidenhead close to the border with Buckinghamshire...

 as "a village in Heaven
Heaven
Heaven, the Heavens or Seven Heavens, is a common religious cosmological or metaphysical term for the physical or transcendent place from which heavenly beings originate, are enthroned or inhabit...

." Fellow-villagers frequently stand in for their Gospel
Gospel
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

 counterparts, lending Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 teachings an eerie immediacy.
Spencer was born and spent much of his life in Cookham in Berkshire
Berkshire
Berkshire is a historic county in the South of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1957, and...

.
Encyclopedia
Sir
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

 Stanley Spencer (30 June 1891 – 14 December 1959) was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

. Much of his work depicts Biblical scenes, from miracle
Miracle
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

s to Crucifixion
Crucifixion
Crucifixion is an ancient method of painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead...

, happening not in the Holy Land
Holy Land
The Holy Land is a term which in Judaism refers to the Kingdom of Israel as defined in the Tanakh. For Jews, the Land's identifiction of being Holy is defined in Judaism by its differentiation from other lands by virtue of the practice of Judaism often possible only in the Land of Israel...

 but in the small Thames-side
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 village where he was born and spent most of his life. He referred to Cookham
Cookham
Cookham is a village and civil parish in the north-easternmost corner of Berkshire in England, on the River Thames, notable as the home of the artist Stanley Spencer. It lies north of Maidenhead close to the border with Buckinghamshire...

 as "a village in Heaven
Heaven
Heaven, the Heavens or Seven Heavens, is a common religious cosmological or metaphysical term for the physical or transcendent place from which heavenly beings originate, are enthroned or inhabit...

." Fellow-villagers frequently stand in for their Gospel
Gospel
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

 counterparts, lending Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 teachings an eerie immediacy.

Early life

Spencer was born and spent much of his life in Cookham in Berkshire
Berkshire
Berkshire is a historic county in the South of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1957, and...

. His father, William Spencer, was a music teacher. His younger brother, Gilbert Spencer
Gilbert Spencer
Gilbert Spencer R.A. was a British painter of landscapes, portraits figure compositions and mural decoarions. He worked in oils and watercolor...

 (1892–1979), was a painter of landscapes.

From 1908 to 1912, Spencer studied at the Slade School of Art at University College, London under Henry Tonks
Henry Tonks
Henry Tonks, FRCS was a British draughtsman and painter of figure subjects, chiefly interiors, and a caricaturist...

 and others. His contemporaries at the Slade included Dora Carrington
Dora Carrington
Dora de Houghton Carrington , known generally as Carrington, was a British painter and decorative artist, remembered in part for her association with members of the Bloomsbury Group, especially the writer Lytton Strachey....

, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash
Paul Nash (artist)
Paul Nash was a British landscape painter, surrealist and war artist, as well as a book-illustrator, writer and designer of applied art. He was the older brother of the artist John Nash.-Early life:...

, Edward Wadsworth
Edward Wadsworth
Edward Alexander Wadsworth was an English artist, most famous for his close association with Vorticism. He painted, often in tempera, coastal views, abstracts, portraits and still-life...

, Isaac Rosenberg
Isaac Rosenberg
Isaac Rosenberg was an English poet of the First World War who was considered to be one of the greatest of all English war poets...

 and David Bomberg
David Bomberg
David Garshen Bomberg was an English painter, and one of the Whitechapel Boys.Bomberg was one of the most audacious of the exceptional generation of artists who studied at the Slade School of Art under Henry Tonks, and which included Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, C.R.W. Nevinson and Dora Carrington...

. So profound was his attachment to the village of his birth that most days he would take the train
Train
A train is a connected series of vehicles for rail transport that move along a track to transport cargo or passengers from one place to another place. The track usually consists of two rails, but might also be a monorail or maglev guideway.Propulsion for the train is provided by a separate...

 back home in time for tea. It even became his nickname
Nickname
A nickname is "a usually familiar or humorous but sometimes pointed or cruel name given to a person or place, as a supposedly appropriate replacement for or addition to the proper name.", or a name similar in origin and pronunciation from the original name....

: his fellow student C.R.W. Nevinson dubbed him Cookham, a name which Spencer himself took to using for a time.

War service

After a long period of agonising whether or not to join up, in 1915 Spencer volunteered with the Royal Army Medical Corps
Royal Army Medical Corps
The Royal Army Medical Corps is a specialist corps in the British Army which provides medical services to all British Army personnel and their families in war and in peace...

 and worked as an orderly at the Beaufort War Hospital (which later became Glenside
Glenside, Bristol
Glenside campus is the home of the School of Health and Social Care at the University of the West of England , Bristol. It is located on Blackberry Hill in the suburb of Fishponds...

). In 1916, the 24-year-old Spencer volunteered for service with the RAMC in Macedonia
Republic of Macedonia
Macedonia , officially the Republic of Macedonia , is a country located in the central Balkan peninsula in Southeast Europe. It is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in 1991...

, and served with the 68th Field Ambulance unit. He subsequently volunteered to be transferred to the Berkshire Regiment. His survival of the devastation and torment that killed so many of his fellows indelibly marked Spencer's attitude to life and death. Such preoccupations come through time and again in his religious works.
Towards the end of the war he was commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee to paint what became Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol, Macedonia
Macedonia (region)
Macedonia is a geographical and historical region of the Balkan peninsula in southeastern Europe. Its boundaries have changed considerably over time, but nowadays the region is considered to include parts of five Balkan countries: Greece, the Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, as...

, September 1916
(now in the Imperial War Museum
Imperial War Museum
Imperial War Museum is a British national museum organisation with branches at five locations in England, three of which are in London. The museum was founded during the First World War in 1917 and intended as a record of the war effort and sacrifice of Britain and her Empire...

). It was visibly the consequence of Spencer's experience in the medical corps. A further major commission was to paint murals for the Sandham Memorial Chapel
Sandham Memorial Chapel
Sandham Memorial Chapel is in the village of Burghclere, Hampshire, England. It is a Grade I listed 1920s decorated chapel, designed by Lionel Pearson as a memorial to the memory of Lieutenant Henry Willoughby Sandham, who had died at the end of World War I. It was commissioned by his sister and...

 in Burghclere
Burghclere
Burghclere is a village and civil parish in the Basingstoke and Deane district of Hampshire, England. According to the 2001 census it had a population of 1,138...

 dedicated to the war dead. The altarpiece depicts the Resurrection of the Soldiers.

In 1939, he went on a painting holiday at the suggestion of one of his friends, William Rothenstein, to Leonard Stanley in Gloucestershire. This holiday extended to two years, Stanley stayed at the White Hart Inn and created many of his important works in his room above the bar which he used as a studio including 'Us in Gloucestershire' and 'The Wool Shop'.

Spencer's work as a war artist in the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 included his epic depiction of shipbuilding workers and their families at Port Glasgow
Port Glasgow
Port Glasgow is the second largest town in the Inverclyde council area of Scotland. The population according to the 1991 census for Port Glasgow was 19426 persons and in the 2001 census was 16617 persons...

 on the Clyde
River Clyde
The River Clyde is a major river in Scotland. It is the ninth longest river in the United Kingdom, and the third longest in Scotland. Flowing through the major city of Glasgow, it was an important river for shipbuilding and trade in the British Empire....

. When the war ended he again took up, as did certain other British neo-romantic artists of the time, his visionary preoccupations—in Spencer's case with a sometimes apocalyptic tinge.

Marriages and later years

In 1925, Spencer married Hilda Carline, then a student at the Slade and sister of the artist Richard Carline. A daughter, Shirin, was born in November of that year and a second daughter, Unity, in 1930. Spencer met the artist Patricia Preece
Patricia Preece
Patricia Preece , born Ruby Vivian Preece, was an English artist associated with the Bloomsbury Group and the second wife of painter Stanley Spencer, for whom she modelled. As a teenager, Preece was involved in the death of dramatist W. S. Gilbert...

 in 1929 in Cookham. He became infatuated with her. Carline divorced Spencer in 1937. A week later he married Preece, who persuaded him to sign over his house to her; she, however, was a lesbian. She continued to live with her partner, Dorothy Hepworth, and though she frequently posed nude for her husband, she refused to consummate the marriage. When Spencer’s bizarre relationship with Preece finally fell apart (though she would never grant a divorce), he would visit Hilda, an arrangement that continued throughout the latter's subsequent mental breakdown. Hilda died from cancer in November 1950. The painful intricacies of this three-way relationship became the subject in 1996 of a play by the feminist playwright Pam Gems
Pam Gems
Pam Gems was a British playwright. The author of numerous original plays, as well as of adaptations of works by major European playwrights of the past, Gems is best known for the 1978 musical play Piaf.-Personal life:...

. Titled Stanley
Stanley (play)
Stanley is a 1996 play written by English playwright, Pam Gems. The play was premiered at the Royal National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre in London.-Plot synopsis:...

, it starred Anthony Sher, at the National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

 and, later, on Broadway
Broadway (New York City)
Broadway is a prominent avenue in New York City, United States, which runs through the full length of the borough of Manhattan and continues northward through the Bronx borough before terminating in Westchester County, New York. It is the oldest north–south main thoroughfare in the city, dating to...

. Nominated for a Tony Award
Tony Award
The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known as a Tony Award, recognizes achievement in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in New York City. The awards are given for Broadway...

, it won the Olivier Best New Play award for 1997.

Spencer has been the subject of several biographies. The diminutive survivor of turmoil domestic and military is depicted in his later years as a "small man with twinkling eyes and shaggy grey hair, often wearing his pyjamas under his suit if it was cold." He became a "familiar sight, wandering the lanes of Cookham pushing the old pram in which he carried his canvas and easel." The pram, black and battered, has somehow survived, to become the most curious exhibit in the Stanley Spencer Gallery
Stanley Spencer Gallery
The Stanley Spencer Gallery is a small gallery in Cookham, a village next to the River Thames in the English county of Berkshire.-Art gallery:The gallery celebrates the famous English painter Sir Stanley Spencer , who lived in the village...

 in Cookham, which is dedicated to its owner's life and works.

When a member of a British Council
British Council
The British Council is a United Kingdom-based organisation specialising in international educational and cultural opportunities. It is registered as a charity both in England and Wales, and in Scotland...

 delegation to China not long before his death, Spencer is said to have introduced himself to Premier Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China, serving from October 1949 until his death in January 1976...

 with the words, "Hello, I'm Stanley from Cookham."

Spencer was knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

ed in 1959. He died of cancer
Cancer
Cancer , known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the...

 at nearby Cliveden
Cliveden
Cliveden is an Italianate mansion and estate at Taplow, Buckinghamshire, England. Set on banks above the River Thames, its grounds slope down to the river. The site has been home to an Earl, two Dukes, a Prince of Wales and the Viscounts Astor....

 later that year.

Art

Spencer has been described as an early modernist painter. His works often express his fervent if unconventional Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 faith. This is especially evident in the scenes that he envisioned and depicted in Cookham. Very evident in these too is the compassion that he felt for his fellow residents. His quirky romantic and sexual obsessions were also expressed within this home environment, but it is a mistake to regard him merely as some sort of quaint village innocent, inextricably tied to small-town England. His works originally provoked great shock and controversy. Nowadays, they still seem stylistically avant-garde, whilst the nudes that arose through the futile relationship with Patricia Preece, such as the Leg of mutton nude
Leg of mutton nude
Double Nude Portrait: The Artist and his Second Wife 1937 is an oil on canvas painting by British artist Stanley Spencer. It depicts Spencer and his soon-to-be second wife, Patricia Preece, beside a raw leg of lamb...

, foreshadow some of the much later works of Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud
Lucian Michael Freud, OM, CH was a British painter. Known chiefly for his thickly impasted portrait and figure paintings, he was widely considered the pre-eminent British artist of his time...

, who has expressed admiration for Spencer.

Spencer's early work is regarded as a synthesis of French Post-Impressionism, exemplified for instance by Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was a leading French Post-Impressionist artist. He was an important figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, print-maker, ceramist, and writer...

, plus early Italian painting typified by Giotto. This was a conscious choice, and Spencer was a key member of a group who called themselves the "Neo-Primitives." Allied with him were David Bomberg, William Roberts and other young contemporaries at the Slade.

His most ambitious work was the consequence of his Great War experiences: a cycle of 19 wall paintings for the Sandham Memorial Chapel (see above), which took five years to complete. During the Second World War, he was recruited by the War Artists' Advisory Committee to help in the war effort by recording activities that were taking place on the home front. Spencer chose to paint Clyde shipbuilders at work; when the war ended, he was in the process of planning a three-tier frieze 70 feet long representing their work.

Today, works such as The Resurrection, Cookham (1923–27), clearly set in the village and with actual residents taking part, rarely come up for auction, but when they do, they sell for immense sums. However, during Spencer's lifetime, it was his landscapes that were in demand. His dealer would press him to produce more, but Spencer expressed impatience, and professed that they were a chore. Nevertheless these landscapes of Cookham and its environs are still favored by many of the public.

Spencer made only three lithographs, all under the guidance of Henry Trivick
Henry Trivick
Henry Houghton Trivick was a British painter, lithographer and author of art books.- Biography :Henry Trivick was the great grandson of the Anglo-American artist Benjamin West. He studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, later teaching lithography there.Trivick was a friend of...

.

Legacy

In November 2006, the Imperial War Museum
Imperial War Museum
Imperial War Museum is a British national museum organisation with branches at five locations in England, three of which are in London. The museum was founded during the First World War in 1917 and intended as a record of the war effort and sacrifice of Britain and her Empire...

 asked Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson
Alex Ferguson
Sir Alexander Chapman "Alex" Ferguson, CBE is a Scottish association football manager and former player, currently managing Manchester United, where he has been in charge since 1986...

 to lead a campaign to fund restoration of Spencer's paintings of Port Glasgow
Port Glasgow
Port Glasgow is the second largest town in the Inverclyde council area of Scotland. The population according to the 1991 census for Port Glasgow was 19426 persons and in the 2001 census was 16617 persons...

's shipyards in wartime and certain other works. Ferguson, whose father, brother and an uncle were working in the yards while the artist was there, took up the challenge.

Spencer's house near Cookham Rise Primary school is still in private occupation. The village's Methodist Chapel where the artist worshipped is today the Stanley Spencer Gallery
Stanley Spencer Gallery
The Stanley Spencer Gallery is a small gallery in Cookham, a village next to the River Thames in the English county of Berkshire.-Art gallery:The gallery celebrates the famous English painter Sir Stanley Spencer , who lived in the village...

. It mounts two exhibitions a year and holds over 100 items of his work.

Memorial

Spencer was cremated and his ashes laid in Cookham Churchyard, beside the path through to Bellrope Meadow. A discreet marble memorial marks the spot.

External links

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