Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of WarStanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War


Stanley Spencer

Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) was one of the greatest Modern British artists.

Born into a musically-minded family in Cookham, Berkshire, his prodigious talent was recognised by his father, who encouraged him to attend the Slade in London. Such was his love of his home village that he travelled back there each evening, and even came to be known as ‘Cookham' to his contemporaries.

He was championed by his tutor, Henry Tonks, who recognised the genius and originality of his creative mind. He studied drawing, and was never instructed formally in the use of paint, but his painterly ability more than matches his graphic brilliance. He was accompanied at the Slade by a stellar cast of contemporaries, including Gertler, Nash and Nevinson, but he outlived them all, and arguably it is his work that has proved to have the most enduring appeal.

Spencer's wartime experiences in Bristol and the Balkans are unified in the murals, which are modelled on Giotto's Arena Chapel in Padua. Spencer overcame the carbolic misery of Beaufort Military Hospital, where he was an orderly, and the sheer horror of the Macedonian front, where he served on the front line, by finding peace in routine, informed by the Confessions of St. Augustine. For Spencer, the menial became the miraculous, a form of reconciliation.

Stanley Spencer was a hospital orderly, soldier and patient during the War, but was not appointed an official war artist until his return to England in 1918. Spencer is one of Britain's most important war artists as well as being a key figure in the development of figurative art in 20th century Britain. The exhibition provides an opportunity to look up close at the paintwork and still life in detail