I didn’t know very much about Sir Stanley Spencer when we visited Cookham a few days ago, and that was pert of the reason I wanted to go, to learn more. I would be able to recognize his work and had a rough idea about the strange mixture of religious and sexual imagery in his paintings, and I knew he straddled the nineteenth and twentieth century, but that was about it…oh, and that he lived in Cookham… which I thought was in Sussex…
Cookham is actually in Berkshire, and Stanley was born there in 1891; his parents were William and Anna and he had a large family of brothers and sisters, Annie, Donald, Florence and Horace, Percy, Sydney and William, Harold and Gilbert. His family was very religious and in 1891, in the census his father is described as an Organist & Teacher Of Music, later professor of Music, and then merely teacher of music.
At a young age Stanley went to the Slade, he prestigious school of art in London, but he continued to live in Cookham, catching the train to the city each day. After the Slade Stanley began to have success with his paintings, but the advent of the war interrupted his and many others artistic careers. At first he enlisted and because of his small stature and frail health served as a medical orderly, before he was sent to Macedonia, and then joined an infantry regiment, serving on the front line. His experiences deeply affected him, which is hardly surprising, and the death of his brother Sydney in action, had a terrible impact on him. These dreadful memories of things he had witnessed and experienced were painted by Sydney, such as a mural ‘The Resurrection of the Soldiers’ where dead soldiers arise from their tombs and pick up their gravestones ready to give back as no longer needed..
He had a complicated personal life, marrying twice and having two children, the second time rather disastrously.He continued to paint, themes of war, religion and what were perceived as erotic and offensive. During the second war he was commissioned as a war artist and sent to the Port of Glasgow to paint the shipyards and the workers. he continued to paint, strange and wonderful paintings until his death in 1959, by which time he had been knighted.
Here is a link to find out more about Spencer, and if you get the chance to go to Cookham, do go!