Monday, 18 June 2012

Sir Stanley Spencer 1891 -1959

View from Cookham Bridge - Stanley Spencer
Cookham village lies some 30 miles from London along the favoured stretch of the river Thames from Henley, past Marlow and Cliveden to Boulter's Lock and Maidenhead Bridge. 
A crow fell down the chimney at a house on Cookham High Street, flapped around the room, flew out of the window and Stanley Spencer was born. The date was June 30th 1891 - the family thought it was a good omen.
When he was 17 years old he was accepted at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. This was the premier art school in the country and he was taught by the renowned Henry Tonks. His fellow students included Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, David Bomberg and C.R.W. Nevinson. They dubbed him Cookham, so profound was his attachment to the village of his birth that most days he would take the London train back home in time for tea.
In 1915 after a long period of agonising over whether or not to join up for WWI, he volunteered to join the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). A year later he volunteered for service with the RAMC in Macedonia. His survival of the devastation and torment that killed so many of his fellow companions indelibly marked his attitude to life and death. Such preoccupations come through time and again in his religious works.
St. Francis and the Birds in Cookham
Swan Upping at Cookham - this is an annual ceremony when the Queen's Swan Marker counts all new cygnets and assigns ownership between the Crown and the ancient Vintners and Dyers.
Self portrait - 1914 - The Tate
Self portrait 1959 the last year of his life - The Tate
The Resurrection at Cookham church - This picture created fierce controversy. The depiction of the graves opening in Cookham churchyard and local people arising to the sound of the Last Trumpet. In Stanley's eyes Christ came to Cookham, and the Resurrection took place in the local graveyard. The painting contains the figures of Moses and other prophets, ranged in stone seats along the church wall.
Details of the figures clambering out of their graves - sorry it is not clearer.
A Cotswold Farm - Tate Gallery - Stanley spent 2 years living in Leonard Stanley in the Cotswolds. He was attracted to the region by the proximity of his friend, the already established and important painter, Sir William Rothenstein.
Some of his greatest work can be seen in the Sandham Memorial Chapel, now run by the National Trust, in the village of Burghclere. Stanley's paintings were inspired by his experience of the war, and he was greatly influenced by the Giotto Arena Chapel murals in Padua, Italy. The murals took him 5 years to complete.
If you had been wandering through Cookham in the 1950's or meandering around the churchyard, it is quite likely that you would have seen Stanley. A scruffy little figure who seldom washed and looked like a scarecrow. He once said 'I am on the side of the angels and dirt'. He would go out each day with his umbrella, pram, easel and paints. If it was cold he would leave his pyjamas on underneath his suit.
In the year of his death he received a knighthood. He carried his old shopping bag with him to Buckingham Palace, inside was a small painting that he had done for the Queen Mother. He had painted her a vase with two roses, and wrapped it in brown paper tied up with string.  When he arrived at the Palace, wearing his newly cleaned suit, he handed the picture to an Equerry who declined to give it to the Queen Mother. Stanley brought it back home with him to Cookham. Popping into a local cafe to have a cup of tea, he handed the painting over to the owners. Years later they sold the painting for many, many thousands of pounds. There is still a restaurant on the Cookham High Street called the Two Roses, and I believe that there is a copy of the original painting on the wall.
There is so much more about Stanley that I have not touched upon, his controversial personal life, and other places that he visited and painted. This is just a brief glimpse at his life.
This lovely painting of Cookham from Englefield was stolen at the beginning of May 2012 from the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham. Should you happen to see it, please notify the police.
images courtesy Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham. Wikipedia BBC & National Trust

36 comments:

  1. Hello Rosemary:
    This post may, as you put it, be a 'brief glimpse' into the life of Stanley Spencer but it does in its so called brevity give a very good insight into the life of this extraordinary man who was, in our view, a most talented painter and whose work, so beautifully illustrated here, we find endlessly fascinating.

    We had not before heard the story of the gift of the painting to HM the Queen Mother. What a very sad tale and one does wonder how he reacted to taking his present away with him. Dreadful, and so very, very rude on the part of the Equerry.

    Alas, Rosemary, we have never visited the Sandham Memorial Chapel for reasons unknown. Now, reading this, it seems so very remiss of us.

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    1. Dear Jane & Lance - maybe in the future you will have a chance to visit the chapel - it really is the jewel in the crown.
      Stanley was stigmatised by many people. My youngest son's MiL lived, as a young girl, in Cookham. Her mother warned her to keep away from him.
      I once attended a lecture on Stanley given by a women who had also lived in Cookham. Her family had embraced him, and he had painted her and her siblings, their garden and house. Years later, all of them, had been able to purchase their first houses in London, outright, with the proceeds from their paintings!!!

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  2. Dear Rosemary,
    I have enjoyed very much reading about Sir Stanley Spencer.
    An artist I must admit I had never heard of before.
    His work reminds me a bit of Mexican art -not that I know very much about art in general, but that came spontaniously in my thoughts. I think it's the way he draws his people...
    And I find some of his works heartbreaking.
    Maybe it is some kind of nosy quriosity, but I like readnig about the life of artists...
    More please!

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    1. Dear Demie - I am so happy that you enjoyed discovering about Stanley Spencer. There is an endless interest in the lives of artists, they often seem to inhabit another world. I enjoyed your observations. His figures do have a naivety to them in many paintings and yet in others they are very realistic and detailed - for example in his own portrait. Mentioning Mexico makes me think of Diego Rivera who also used figures in a similar manner.

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  3. Wow! What an interesting and wonderful post! The first self portrait drew me in and wouldn't let go for quite a long time. What a man and what a life! Thank you for sharing about him.

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    1. Dear Lisa - knowing your interest in art and art history, I am so pleased that you enjoyed this post. I totally agree about the first self portrait, in fact, I think that they are both mesmerising. They are totally honest portraits and a wonderful contrast between the young self and the old self.

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  4. Dear Rosemary - I am another one to whom you have introduced this great artist. I am very taken by his unusual sense of composition and perspectives, which remind me a little of David Hockney (especially the Swan Upping at Cookham). I'd love to see these in person. Very inspiring.

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    1. Dear Mark - you have immediately picked up on his unusual sense of composition and perspectives which are not conventional, but work.
      The paintings really do need to be seen in the flesh. Many of them are very large, and the detail in them makes compelling viewing.
      Glad to have introduced him to you, and that you like what you have seen.

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    2. Posted June 20th - Rosemary, I've been doing more research on Stanley Spencer, and have been all the more impressed with his work. I'm glad he lived long enough to be knighted. And what an unusual life!!

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    3. Dear Mark - I am so happy that you enjoyed his work so much that you have researched him further. He has been a favourite of mine for a long time, and I have visited Cookham and the Chapel at Burghclere, which is just so wonderful. The detail is such that you need to spend plenty of time there.
      His life was far too complicated for me to mention. I have the feeling that, to a certain extent, he was an innocent and rather naive victim in it all.

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  5. Rosemary - I really enjoyed learning about Sir Stanley Spencer. What an interesting and unique artist. His paintings, to me, are a bit naive, sad, and very honest. Lots of messages in those pieces. I do hope they find the stolen piece.
    Cheers,
    Loi

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    1. As you have probably gathered his paintings are worth a lot of money, hence the stolen painting. However, his work is so well known that it would not be possible to sell it on. It must have been stolen to order. The work is privately owned, and was on loan to the gallery, which is terrible for the owners.
      So pleased that you enjoyed learning about him. He was a little man who did both big and great works of art.

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  6. Fascinating post Rosemary. I especially like his response that he was on the side of the angels and dirt. If only more people were on that side as well.

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    1. Really like your new avatar Olive - yes, Stanley Spencer was a one off person, and a very talented artist.

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  7. These are amazing pictures, paintings.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. Thanks Filip - so pleased that you enjoyed seeing them.

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  8. Wow I love this man's work. Thanks for sharing Rosemary, I never heard of him before.
    Have a nice evening

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    1. Dear Marijke - so pleased that you like Stanley Spencer's work and that I was able to introduce you to him. It is always a pleasure to come across an artist, whose work you like, and whom you have never met before.

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  9. Rosemary - thank you for your wonderful post. I am another one who had not heard about Sir Stanley Spencer.

    If I ever manage to return to the U.K. there is so much to see. (That is what my father told me when I left in 1965 on a working holiday).

    I found the story of the Queen Mother very moving.

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    1. Dear Susan - what a long time you have been away - nearly 50 years.
      If the Queen Mother ever learnt about the story I am sure she would have been upset. She was apparently very fond of his paintings.
      I wonder if you have had a chance to play around with the collages on PicMonkey?

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  10. loved seeing and learning about this talented artist!

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  11. Thanks for your visit and comment - so pleased that you enjoyed learning about Stanley Spencer.

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  12. Hi Rosemary, a fascinating post and I loved the last few flower posts aw well especially the virtual tour of Hidcote. Rather different to mine! I was sorry to read you had problems while trying to access the Flickr side show. No one else has mentioned this to me, not yet anyway and I also did nmot have any problems myself whilst visiting the site from another computer not signed in as me! This does lead me to think the problem was definitely your end and for some reason your security did not pick up a problem. Do you have pop ups disabled? Hope it does not happen again, you should report it to blogger if it does,

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    1. That is a good tip about the pop ups - I do not know whether mine are disabled or not, so I will look into it. Thanks for that. It must have been something I did, but thought I had better mention it.
      Glad you enjoyed the Stanley Spencer post and the one from Hidcote. We were fortunate to have a lovely day for the visit having had lots of rain. Hopefully the weather has now turned round for the better.

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  13. Sir Stanley Spencer's work is phenomenal.. I feel that he was definately brought up being told the story of the bird flying down the home chimney.. hence the birds and chickens in his paintings.
    The graves and ressurections are surely of a mind that was much disturbed by what he saw during the great war. His eye for detail is amazing. Very different and interesting.
    I will read up about him.. I must for Stanley was my fathers name, he was born in 1915. I miss him dearly.
    I wonder who stole that magnificent painting. It must turn up somewhere. I wonder why the Equerry did not want to pass it on to the Queen mother..!!
    As always Rosemary. I love reading your posts. Thank you.
    val

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    1. Perhaps the Equerry was just being rather snooty and superior to poor little Stanley who was rather a diminutive little man. He probably thought the Queen Mother would not appreciate a parcel tied up in brown paper and string. He also more than likely did not know who Stanley was, and that his paintings were highly desirable to own.
      Glad you enjoyed the read Val, you are always so appreciative and encouraging. Thank you♥

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    2. I have been reading this post again. It is so interesting.
      The painting of the soldiers embracing the flowers .. reminded me of the song
      "where have all the flowers gone".. Stanley has two different eyes.. one dark brown and the other a steel colour. I feel sorry for him. His works are fantastic.

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    3. Dear Val - I like that idea of 'where have all the flowers gone'.That particular wall fresco is not being viewed on the computer screen as it should be. It is painted quite high up on the wall and so you view it from below, and the perspective changes from that angle. I do not know whether you noticed or not but the map reading soldier is actually sitting on a horse with his map spread over the horses neck, and the soldier below is feeding the horse.
      I did notice that his eyes were much deeper brown when young, and also that he has one round eye and one oval eye. His portraits are very realistic.
      Glad you felt the post worthy of another read. Thank you.

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  14. Article very interesting and impressive pictures, i liked your read..
    Bye**

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    1. Thank you Magnus - I am happy that you enjoyed the post along with the pictures.

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  15. Dear Rosemary
    Another lesson today! I had vaguely heard about it ... but I have not read a book about him. I think his painting has bright colors and clean lines. Thank you very much for sharing these with us.
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia - I am so pleased that you had heard about him, and I hope that this post has added to your knowledge of him. Glad you enjoyed seeing his work.

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  16. It’s become somewhat of a rarity to find original online article content anymore. I’m very surprised to find this well-written impressive article. You have many logical points here that compelled me to consider your side. Painters London

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    1. That is a very generous comment - thank you

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  17. For everyone that enjoyed your blog on Stanley Spencer can I recommend they look at the website for the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham - there a few spaces still left on what will be an extraordinary two days of thought and conversation about this enduring artist on September 9th and 10th. 'A Village Vision' has been organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the gallery and speakers will be Dr James Fox, Prof Paul Gough, Carolyn Leder (Gallery Trustee) and the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chemslford. All the details are on www.stanleyspencer.org.uk under 'Anniversary conference. The cost is £60 and it will be worth every penny! Chrissy Rosenthal

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    1. Thank you for that information Chrissy - hopefully it may be of interest to some readers.

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