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Stanley Spencer's first world war paintings to go on UK tour

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BerichtGeplaatst: 07 Nov 2013 13:35    Onderwerp: Stanley Spencer's first world war paintings to go on UK tour Reageer met quote


An exhibition of Spencer's powerful WW1 paintings, based on the artist's own memories of service, is now touring the UK

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

They are considered some of Stanley Spencer's finest works Ė a poignant, visionary memorial to the forgotten dead of the first world war Ė but they are not as widely known as many believe they should be.

Now, because of restoration work at the National Trust-owned chapel where they are always displayed, the paintings are going on a tour which will bring them to new eyes.

On Thursday visitors to Somerset House in London will be able to see the large canvas panels that Spencer painted based on his memories of his war service, first as a hospital orderly in Bristol and then as a soldier on the Salonika front in Macedonia.

"This is really like seeing them for the first time," said David Taylor, the National Trust's curator of pictures, who is used to visiting them in their usual home. "It is thrilling. We've been hanging [paintings] for two days and each time I go in there, it's like it's a second version I didn't know about. They are the same canvases but different Ė you can spot things you hadn't spotted before and the colours are different."

The historian Simon Schama has called the Spencer murals "the most powerful art to emerge from the carnage of the Great War". Others have called the series Britain's answer to the Sistine Chapel.

Spencer himself would have preferred comparison to Giotto's Arena chapel in Padua, while for Taylor "there is a more Rothko-esque experience when you sit in the chapel and look at the paintings, and certainly after 10 minutes you are overcome by a sense of poignancy."

The panels are very British. The ones depicting life in the military hospital show the washing of lockers, the sorting of laundry, the making of jam sandwiches. Spencer called them "a symphony of rashers of bacon" with "tea-making obligato" and said they depict a banality of life which was, for those sent there from the battlefield, a "heaven in a hell of war".

Spencer witnessed previously unimagined horrors and acts of brutality Ė both in the hospital where he worked and at Salonika. But there is no blood or gore or atrocities in his paintings.

"He would have seen horrific things and he didn't depict them," said Taylor. "Maybe that is part of his coming to terms with it, maybe that's how he survived the war."

The paintings, created from 1927-1932, are widely considered Spencer's finest achievement. They hang in the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, Hampshire, that was built by his patrons John Louis and Mary Behrend. Amanda Bradley, assistant curator of pictures at the Trust, said the chapel "is one of the greatest glories of art in northern Europe. It is Stanley Spencer's masterpiece and is arguably one of the greatest modern British artistic schemes ever conceived."

Sixteen canvases have travelled to London, while Spencer's altarpiece Ė Resurrection of the Soldiers Ė which is fixed in place, is shown as a projection. The display, at Somerset House until 26 January, is part of the many activities leading up to next year's 100th commemoration of the outbreak of the first world war. They will later travel to the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, and be on show from 15 February to June 2014. The chapel reopens in July.
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