Stanley Spencer was a British painter. Born in Berkshire in 1891, Spencer first began his artistic education by taking drawing lessons with local artists in his hometown of Cookham. Encouraged by a local benefactor, Spencer attended the Maidenhead Technical Institute for a short while in 1907. His artistic training began in earnest when Spencer enrolled at the Slade School of Art, where he studied between the years 1908 – 1912. Following the completion of his course the artist began to contribute drawings and paintings to several group exhibitions in London, for which he received great acclaim and a number of awards.
Even in these early years, Spencer’s distinctive compositional style was evident. In 1915 the artist volunteered to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War One, working as an orderly at the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol before being transferred to Macedonia as part of a field ambulance unit and later, an infantry regiment. Spencer spent two and a half years on the front line in Macedonia. The death and destruction he bore witness to would influence the artist’s work significantly in the years to come. In 1919, Spencer was commissioned by the British War Memorials Committee to produce a large scale painting for a proposed Hall of Remembrance. The resulting painting was one of the first compositions the artist would produce directly recounting, or else inspired by, the events he witnessed during his time in Macedonia, a practice which would continue well in to his career.
Spencer’s reputation as one of the foremost artists in Britain was cemented in 1927 when the artist participated in his first solo exhibition at the Goupil Gallery in London. His distinctive style, a combination of intricate details and free flowing form, was described by the popular press as at once Pre-Raphaelite and Cubist. During the 1930s, after the completion of the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, Spencer began to move away from his focus on the War. Landscapes and observational studies of his beloved hometown of Cookham would for a time become his artistic inspiration. In 1932 Spencer was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, contributing several works to the Venice Biennale in the same year. During the Second World War Spencer served as a War Artist in Port Glasgow between the years 1939 – 1945, charged with depicting the industrial shipbuilding efforts of civilians in the area. The resulting paintings were compositions very large in scale, a practice which would continue in the later stages of his career with his Resurrection series of works.Alongside his focus on monumental painted works, Spencer continued to work on a series of pencil drawings in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Spencer was awarded the CBE in 1950 before receiving his knighthood in 1958. The artist died in 1959. His work remains in the collection of the Tate in London and the eponymous Stanley Spencer Gallery in his much loved hometown of Cookham, and in many other British and international collections.