Twentieth Century Artists in the Graves Gallery

Sir Stanley Spencer

Sir Stanley Spencer was an artist of many contradictions, at once innocent and worldly, spiritual and sexual, realistic and primitive, hopeful and despondent.

Spencerís early work was heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and their emulation of medieval and early Renaissance painting. He was particularly drawn to their religious subject matter and began to incorporate it into his own work. He painted a series of paintings setting the New Testament story in and around his home town of Cookham. His most famous work, The Resurrection, was set in the village churchyard, depicting the villagers as characters from scripture .

Spencer left Cookham in 1915 to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was stationed at Beaufort War Hospital. His sympathy towards the wounded and dead soldiers he encountered there had a substantial impact on his work. He painted pictures for them and of them, in order to take their minds off the war. In doing so the focus of his work changed. His religious idealism was replaced by a desire to focus on reality.

Spencerís wartime experiences also led to his sexual awakening, which became the subject of much of his work during the 1930s. A series of portraits of his second wife Patricia Preece, proved highly controversial. One of these portraits, Leg of Mutton Nude, painted in 1937, was both raw and uncompromising. In it Spencer sought to question ideas of beauty by presenting the body of his wife as nothing more than uncooked meat.

The explicit nature of this work angered many within the English art establishment who subsequently threatened to have Spencer prosecuted for obscenity.

Listen to students' responses to Spencer's paintings - see Audio links below.

Helter Skelter, 1937 © The Estate of Stanley Spencer 2008.  All rights reserved DACS.

Map link: Cookham, Berkshire, where Sir Stanley Spencer was born»

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