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Stanley Spencer

Sir Stanley Spencer

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Sir Stanley Spencer CBE RA (30 June 1891 – 14 December 1959) was an English painter. Shortly after leaving the Slade School of Art, Spencer became well known for his paintings depicting Biblical scenes occurring as if in Cookham, the small village beside the River Thames where he was born and spent much of his life. Spencer referred to Cookham as "a village in Heaven" and in his biblical scenes, fellow-villagers are shown as their Gospel counterparts. Spencer was skilled at organising multi-figure compositions such as in his large paintings for the Sandham Memorial Chapel and the Shipbuilding on the Clyde series, the former being a First World War memorial while the latter was a commission for the War Artists' Advisory Committee during the Second World War.

As his career progressed Spencer often produced landscapes for commercial necessity and the intensity of his early visionary years diminished somewhat while elements of eccentricity came more to the fore. Although his compositions became more claustrophobic and his use of colour less vivid he maintained an attention to detail in his paintings akin to that of the Pre-Raphaelites. Spencer's works often express his fervent if unconventional Christian faith. This is especially evident in the scenes that he based in Cookham which show the compassion that he felt for his fellow residents and also his romantic and sexual obsessions. Spencer's works originally provoked great shock and controversy. Nowadays, they still seem stylistic and experimental, while the nude works depicting his futile relationship with his second wife, Patricia Preece, such as the Leg of mutton nude, foreshadow some of the much later works of Lucian Freud. Spencer's early work is regarded as a synthesis of French Post-Impressionism, exemplified for instance by Paul Gauguin, plus early Italian painting typified by Giotto. In later life Spencer remained an independent artist and did not join any of the artistic movements of the period, although he did show three works at the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in 1912.

Stanley Spencer was born in Cookham, Berkshire, the eighth surviving child of William and Anna Caroline Spencer (née Slack). His father, usually known as Par, was a music teacher and church organist. Stanley's younger brother, Gilbert Spencer (1892–1979), also became a notable artist, known principally for his landscape paintings. The family home, "Fernlea", on Cookham High Street, had been built by Spencer's grandfather Julius Spencer. Stanley Spencer was educated at home by his sisters Annie and Florence, as his parents had reservations about the local council school but could not afford private education for him. However, Gilbert and Stanley took drawing lessons from a local artist, Dorothy Bailey. Eventually, Gilbert was sent to a school in Maidenhead, but the family did not feel this would be beneficial for Stanley, who was developing into a solitary teenager given to long walks, yet with a passion for drawing. Par Spencer approached local landowners, Lord and Lady Boston, for advice, and Lady Boston agreed Stanley could spend time drawing with her each week. In 1907 Lady Boston arranged for Stanley to attend Maidenhead Technical Institute, where his father insisted he should not take any exams.

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