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Thursday, 14 December 2017

Painting of the Month (77) Dec 2017: Stanley Spencer

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959) was born in the Berkshire village of Cookham which sits by the bank of the River Thames. Kenneth Grahame was inspired to write The Wind in the Willows by that beautiful and serene stretch of water. In a sense Spencer never really left the village. Many of his paintings are set there, including some of his various religious works especially of The Resurrection, a theme he returned to throughout his career. He turned the streets of Cookham into visions of holiness using family and neighbours as his models.
In an age that was beginning to be heavily imbued with the influence of Darwin, Spencer held on to his faith throughout his life. He produced his best work between the two World Wars when church attendance in Great Britain was drastically falling but he saw Cookham as heaven on Earth, a paradise invested with mystical significance.
Sir Stanley Spencer: The Resurrection, Cookham 1924-1927. Tate Britain
In this monumental work (it's 2.7m by 5.5m in size) Spencer has set the scene in Cookham Churchyard where the dead are risen and can be seen, top left, being transported up to heaven by the Thames pleasure steamers, which were plentiful at that time. In the painting Spencer can be seen naked, right of centre, while his fiance sleeps on a bed of ivy. The figure of Christ sits in the church porch. Click on the picture to enlarge or hold down 'Ctrl' and press '+' several times.
Spencer compared his emotional approach to his work with Moses seeing the burning bush and taking his shoes off; "I saw many burning bushes in Cookham. I observe the most sacred quality in the most unexpected places".
Below are some of his other paintings, showing his great range which had the unifying quality of seeing the sacred in everyday life:


Image result for stanley spencer paintings

And a selection of his self-portraits






The English artist Beryl Cook was inspired by the work of Stanley Spencer and she will feature in my next Painting of the Month in January 2018

12 comments:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - that's an area I want to visit and to see some Spencer's works ... you can see the Beryl Cook influence here - or should that be the other way round ... he influenced her. The whole village and his gallery would be fascinating to visit - cheers and all the best for the seasonal year end - Hilary

bazza said...

Hilary: I am writing the Beryl Cook post for January now and I can't stop smiling at her pictures - I love them! Cookham is entirely delightful and worth a visit. One more for your list.

Hels said...

I saw a wonderful exhibition called A Crisis of Brilliance at Dulwich Picture Gallery years ago. The works were created by artists born at the same time and trained at the same Slade School: C.R.W. Nevinson (born 1889), Paul Nash (b1889), David Bomberg (b1890), Stanley Spencer (b1891), Mark Gertler (b1891) and Dora Carrington (b1893).

Then there was Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, which I did not see. I know war art is important, but it is almost always heart breaking. His village scenes, on the other hand, were heart warming.

bazza said...

Hels: The Dulwich Picture Gallery is my favourite in London (and probably along with the Ashmolean, in England). The list of artists in that exhibition is wonderful. Davis Bomberg is, to my mind, much under-appreciated - I feel a future Painting of the Month coming on - maybe In the Hold!
I never think of Spencer as a War Artist although, of course, he was. My mind always goes to Paul Nash in that particular genre.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Those who can find beauty in the ordinary and sacred qualities in ordinary places are truly blessed. A true appreciation for one's surroundings is a path to true contentment. Those who share that appreciation through their blog posts are... really cool! Thanks. :)

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, Your story about Spencer and the qualities he found in Cookham remind me of a favorite (and strange!) English story, Mr. Weston's Good Wine, and how T.F. Powys based the village in the novel on Chaldon Herring in Dorset. What goes on in these English villages, anyway?
--Jim

bazza said...

Susan: Spencer was, to me, a very genuine artist with a unique and distinctive style. Thanks you for your charming comment!

bazza said...

Jim (Parnassus): Funnily enough there has been a long-running (20 years) UK TV programme called Midsomer Murders. In this series, set in various villages in the fictional county of Midsomer, there have been so many murders that critics have speculated that it is surprising that there is anyone left alive there!
I have always felt that Midsomer is based on Dorset or Somerset. I am sure both of those delightful English counties are relatively free of industrial scale murders.......

David said...

Hi bazza,
I saw a documentary on Spencer once many moons ago and found it fascinating (like your post, bazza!).
I have to say, though, that I share some of the trepidation about sleepy little English villages. I always get images of "The Wicker Man" or The League of Gentlemen's Royston Vasey in my mind. "Are you local, bazza?"
Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year,
from David.

bazza said...

David: My goodness, I hope Cookham isn't like Royston Vasey! It certainly doesn't look like it. I think they have cannibalism fairly well under control......
I wish you all the best for this holiday season. Cheers!

E Berris said...

Thanks for this happy post. According to his brother Gilbert's memoir (which I'm sure you will know), the steamer is "the Marguerite, moored in Bell Rope meadow, to embark them for heaven".
I am looking forward to Beryl Cook.

Best wish for 2018.

S. Berris

bazza said...

EB: Hello and welcome; thanks for visiting. I just took a look at your Blog and it's right up my street! I would like to follow but I'm not sure if I have done it properly.
Thanks for that extra bit of information. You flatter me; I don't know Gilbert's biography.
Seasons greetings to you - see my next post!