Stanley Spencer

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

The paintings below are all self portraits by one of Britain’s truly great artists. Ever since a friend of mine took me to see the Burghclere chapel in the late 1980’s when I first came to London, I have been fascinated by this intriguing and unassuming man.

The first image was painted in 1914 when Spencer was 23/24 (he was born in 1891) and shows us a young man with a proud face, full of confidence sitting before a dark, a nondescript background. This piece was completed not long before he enlisted, serving in Macedonia with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Despite the 22 year gap between the first and second portrait (from 1936), the face looking at us seems little changed. It maybe slightly thinner, the clothes more ragged and the chin unshaven, but it is recognisably the same man. Spencer’s lifelong interest in background and texture is also starting to come to the fore, with both skin and the background seeming more alive.

The third image is from three years later, 1939 and the transformation is striking. A different, slightly angled pose and a greater interest in his surroundings as evidenced by the paint board, the brush and the folded sheets. Add to this a far more healthy looking, almost chubby face, combed hair, the suit and tie and the spectacles, and this painting stands apart from the other three, as depicting a man of success, rather than the archetypal struggling artist.

Finally the last image from 1959. Twenty years after the previous one and completed the same year as the artists untimely death at the age of 68. The colours in this image are far softer, the wallpaper and the skin are painted with Spencer’s characteristic almost obsessive eye for detail. A man finally more content with who he was maybe, with almost the hint of a smile.

He was a contradictory man by all accounts. Low key in his outward appearance to the world: polite, small in stature and generally scruffy, often wearing his pyjamas under his suit if it was cold, as he pushed his old pram carrying his canvas and easel around Cookham. He was nonetheless a highly emotional person, whose life was full of complicated relationships and an overwhelming belief in Christianity that brought out the eccentric him and drove him to produce some of the most instantly recognisable works of the twentieth century.

Here are two of my favourite of his works. Both are faith based images, but relocated to Cookham, both show his joyous, rounded style and love of colour and life and both are idiosyncratic to say the least. Above is The Resurrection: Cookham from 1926 and  below St. Francis and the Birds from 1935.

  1. November 24, 2010 at 16:26

    how are you I was luck to approach your topic in google
    your topic is marvelous
    I get much in your subject really thank your very much
    btw the theme of you blog is really fine
    where can find it

    • November 25, 2010 at 09:56

      Thank you for your kind words.

      There is a link to the theme at the bottom of the main page, its called “INove”

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