I have a feeling that most Americans don’t know much about the English artist Stanley Spencer, who lived from 1891 until 1959. I have to admit that I knew very little until stumbling across a book of his unique paintings. However, our ignorance doesn’t detract from the man’s greatness or his fame as one of the greatest British painters. Some maintain that he is their greatest Modern painter.
His work is unique and always interesting, with densely colored and arranged scenes that sometimes seem overwhelming to take in at one viewing. The piece shown here at the top, The Resurrection of the Soldiers, is one such painting.
It depicts the World War I soldiers that Spencer saw as a medic and soldier undergoing a rebirth on the battlefield. It serves as the altarpiece( you can see the altar and podiums in the foreground of this photo) in a chapel, the Sandham Memorial Chapel, that was designed to specifically hold his war paintings.
Iam totally pulled in by the the intricacy and contrasting tones of the composition, taking in at as a whole without even being able to discern what the subject might be. Moving in closer, it becomes even more compelling.
The idea of resurrection and other biblicaland Christian themes were sometimes the subject of Spencer’s paintings, in which he would transform the subjects of biblical stories into characters residing in his beloved Cookham, a small village in Berkshire. One example is his depiction of St. Francis, shown here to the left. Perhaps his best known work and one that many consider one of the greatest British paintings ever is his painting of the resurrection of Cookham, shown at the bottom of this page.
I realize that the size of these photos doesn’t do justice to these paintings. I had put off showing his work on the blog for this reason but hopefully it will serve as an entrypoint to those who might want to investigate further his paintings or his interesting life which served as the basis for the play Stanley, a Tony nominee in 1997. But even without the biographical material I’m sure you’ll find something in his work that stops you in some way. I know it always stops me in my tracks.