Sir Stanley Spencer was an English painter of imaginative and religious subjects, landscapes and occasional portraits. Born in Cookham, Berkshire, on 30th June 1891, the son of William Spencer, a teacher of music, Stanley was the seventh son in a family of eleven children. The family lived in Fernlea, a semi-detached villa in Cookham High Street that had been built by Stanley’s grandfather, a local master builder. Spencer studied at the Maidenhead Technical Institute in 1907 and later at the Slade School of Art from 1908-12. He was awarded a scholarship in 1910 and the Summer Composition Prize in 1912.
Spencer achieved early success and exhibited at the Second Post-Impressionists Exhibition in 1912. With the outbreak of World War I he enlisted with the R.A.M.C. and worked as an orderly at the Beaufort War Hospital, Bristol. After thirteen months at Beaufort, the R.A.M.C. transferred Spencer to overseas duties. He left Beaufort in May 1916 and after ten weeks training at Tweseldown Camp in Hampshire, Spencer was sent to Macedonia with the 68th Field Ambulance unit. In 1917 he subsequently volunteered to be transferred to an infantry regiment, the 7th Battalion Berkshire Regiment. Spencer returned to England at the end of 1918.
In 1919 Spencer was commissioned by the British War Memorials Committee to complete a large work for a proposed, but never built, Hall of Remembrance. The work, Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916, clearly reflected Spencer’s war time experience and depicted a forward dressing station with its unending stream of injured soldiers. The work is now housed and on display in the Imperial War Museum.
During the 1920’s Spencer worked with several of his contemporaries including, Muirhead Bone & Henry Lamb, on a series of murals and proposed war memorial works. Spencer hired a small studio in Hampstead from his fellow artist, Henry Lamb, and started working on a series of paintings. In February 1927 he held his for solo exhibition at the Goupil Gallery, Paris. The exhibition received rave reviews. One of the works in the exhibition, The Resurrection, Cockham, was singled out by The Times critic who described it as ‘the most important picture painted by any English artist in the present century’.
It is during this period that Spencer began a series of over a 100 pencil works, now known as the Scarpbook Drawings, which he continued to work on over the next decade. In 1932 he was elected the Associate of the Royal Academy and exhibited ten works at the Venice Biennale.
During the Second World War, Spencer completed a series of works, commissioned by the War Artist’s Advisory Committee, of the Lithgows Shipyard in Port Glasgow on the Clyde river depicting civilians at work. These works are now housed in the Imperial War Museum.
In 1945 Spencer returned to live in Cookham in a house called Cliveden View, which had once belonged to his brother. In his later years Spencer was seen as a “small man with twinkling eyes and shaggy grey hair, often wearing his pyjamas under his suit if it was cold.” Spencer became a “familiar sight, wandering the lanes of Cookham pushing the old pram in which he carried his canvas and easel.” In December 1958 Spencer was diagnosed with cancer. He died in 1959 and during his lifetime he was awarded the CBE and knighted, and had been elected to the Royal Academy.