SPENCER, Sir Stanley

1891 - 1959

Stanley Spencer

Stanley Spencer, was born at Cookham, Berkshire, on 30 June 1891, the seventh son and second youngest of the eleven children of William Spencer, organist and music teacher, and his wife, Anna Caroline née Slack, who married at Cookham in 1873. His brother Gilbert Spencer [q.v.] was only thirteen months younger. Stanley and Gilbert took drawing lessons from a local artist, Dorothy Bailey, and local landowner Lady Boston, agreed that Stanley could spend time drawing with her each week and in 1907 Lady Boston arranged for Stanley to attend Maidenhead Technical Institute. Spencer studied at the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London 1908-1912 and after leaving the Slade, Spencer became well-known for his paintings depicting Biblical scenes occurring as if in Cookham. After serving in the Medical Corps and later as an infantryman in Macedonia during the First World War Stanley, and his brother Gilbert, would be drawn to in and around Suffolk. Through his brother Gilbert, Stanley met another Slade student, Hilda Carline [q.v.] who, with the Women's Land Army, had been posted to a farm near Wangford, in deepest Suffolk and after a painting holiday in Yugoslavia in 1922 they became engaged. By the summer of 1924 Carlene had returned to Wangford and in the autumn Stanley followed her where both artists worked with gusto with Stanley painting a panorama of the marsh beyond the village. They married at Wangford on 23 February 1925, the witness being Hilda's mother and painter brothers George and Sydney. A daughter, Shirin, was born in November of that year and a second daughter, Unity, in 1930. Although living and working at Cookham and Hampstead, in 1926 they returned to Wangford with their new daughter, lodging with the Lambert family when the artists enjoyed outings to Southwold. In the summer of 1935, Hilda and the children moved to Hampstead and the couple were divorced in May 1937. A week later Spencer married Patricia Preese, but Patricia returned to her lover Barbara Hepworth. In 1937, Stanley returned to Wangford, again lodging at The Cottage with the Lambert's but his finances were now in a perilous state and he was forced to rely on patrons, including the Martineau's, with whom brother Gilbert would spend his final years, at Walsham le Willows, near Bury St Edmund's, Suffolk. Spencer's works often express his fervent if unconventional Christian faith which is 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 with the nude works depicting his futile relationship with Patricia Preece, such as the 'Leg of Mutton' nude. During the winter of 1937, alone in Southwold, Suffolk, Spencer begin a series of paintings, 'The Beatitudes of Love', about ill-matched couples and these pictures, and others of often radical sexual imagery, were intended for cubicles in Church-House where a visitor could 'meditate on the sanctity and beauty of sex'. In December 1958, Spencer was diagnosed with cancer and underwent an operation at the Canadian War Memorial Hospital on the Cliveden estate and where he died on 14 December 1959. The value of Spencer's paintings soared after a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1980, his 'The Resurrection' fetched £770,000 at Christie's in 1990, and in May of that year his 'Crucifixion' (1958) fetched £1,320,000.

Works by This Artist