Sir Stanley Spencer

Sir Stanley Spencer was born in 1891 in Cookham, Berkshire, the village that he loved and that he returned to paint for the rest of his life. He moved to London to attend the Slade School of Art from 1908 to 1912, under Henry Tonks and others, where his fellow students included Paul Nash, Dora Carrington, David Bomberg, and Edward Wadsworth. Whilst he studied at the Slade, Spencer was briefly allied with a group who called themselves the ‘Neo-Primitives’.

In 1912, Spencer showed several pieces in the British section of the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition (organised by Roger Fry), amongst which was his work John Donne Arriving in Heaven. He won a Slade Composition Prize in the same year, for The Nativity, and in the following year exhibited in the first Contemporary Art Society exhibition.

Spencer volunteered with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Bristol, Hampshire, and Macedonia, before he was invalided out due to recurrent bouts of malaria. When he returned, it was to Cookham, where he completed a work for a New English Art Club in 1920, Swan Upping. He found work difficult after his experiences during the war, but began a (uncompleted) mural that showed the wounded in Macedonia.

In 1920 Spencer left Cookham for a few peripatetic years, staying and working with various friends. In 1925 he married Hilda Carline, a former Slade student, with whom he had two children. Two years later he had his first solo show, at the Goupil Gallery, which had perhaps his best-known work, The Resurrection, Cookham, as its much vaunted centre piece. In the period 1927-32, Spencer worked on an huge commission for the Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere – sixteen paintings depicting the war.

In 1937, Spencer divorced Carline and married Patricia Preece, the lover of Dorothy Hepworth. The following year, Spencer went to Port Glasgow on the River Clyde on behalf of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, and painted a series of pictures that showed the heavy industry that took place in the shipyards. In 1950 he rejoined the Royal Academy (first as an Associate, then as a full Academician) and was made a CBE.