Graphical version

Tate Britain

SPENCER, Sir Stanley (1891-1959): Sketchbook


Reference code(s): GB-70-tga-200413

Held at: Tate Britain

Title: SPENCER, Sir Stanley (1891-1959): Sketchbook

Date(s): c 1919-1924

Level of description: Collection

Extent: 1 box

Name of creator(s): Spencer | Sir | Stanley | 1891-1959 | Knight | artist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) was born in Cookham, Berkshire, where he spent much of his life. He attended the Slade School under Tonks, 1908-1912; returning in 1923, where he concentrated on drawing. His contemporaries at the Slade included Nevinson, Bomberg, Roberts, Gertler, Wadsworth, Carrington, Allinson, Jacques and Gwen Raverat, Lightfoot and Ihlee; the latter four being his closest friends. In 1912, Spencer exhibited in the 2nd Post-Impressionist exhibition, organised by Roger Fry, and in 1913 he met Edward Marsh who, with fellow artist Henry Lamb, supported his work. Between 1915 and 1918 he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps where he saw action in Salonika. In 1918 he was commissioned for an official war picture: 'Travoys with Wounded Soldiers' (Imperial War Museum). In 1919 Spencer met Hilda Carline (sister to Richard and Sydney), and they married in 1925. They had two children, Shirin born 1925 and Unity born in 1930. A member of the New English Art Club, 1919-27, his first solo exhibition was at the Goupil Gallery in 1927, where he exhibited 'The Resurrection, Cookham', 1924-26 (Tate). Between 1927 and 1932 he worked on the decorations for the Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere, and he subsequently exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1928, 1930, 1932 and 1938, and at the Tooth, Leger and Zwemmer Galleries in London. Elected Associate Royal Academician in 1932 (resigned 1935) he was re-elected Royal Academician in 1950. In 1937 Hilda divorced Stanley so he could marry Patricia Preece. His second marriage only lasted two years and Spencer remained in love, and in close contact, with Hilda until her death in 1950.

From the 1930s he worked on a series of paintings for his unrealised Church-House scheme and in 1940 he was commissioned by the WAAC to paint shipbuilding subjects at Port Glasgow (Imerpial War Museum). 'The Resurrection, Port Glasgow' (Tate) was one of nine pictures of the Resurrection painted between 1945 and 1950. He received his CBE in 1950 and was knighted in 1959. In 1954 he visited China as part of a cultural delegation, and in 1955 the Tate held a retrospective exhibition of his work. His painting gives an autobiographical, visionary interpretation of secular and religious subjects, often depicting biblical scenes in the contemporary environment of Cookham. Influenced by early Italian painting and work by his contemporaries at the Slade, he used distortions of scale, perspective and anatomy, heightened realistic detail, cool, earthy colour and rhythmical forms to produce work of great imaginative intensity. In the 1920s and 1930s he painted urban, domestic subjects, sometimes with an erotic content. His sharply defined work was based on drawn preparation and painted in a methodical manner which rarely altered or overpainted images. In December 1958 Spencer was diagnosed with cancer and taken into hospital for a colostomy operation. The operation was a success, but Spencer's recovery was slow and painful. During 1959 Spencer limited his social engagements to allow more time for his painting. He also moved back into 'Fernlea', Cookham, his childhood home. Stanley Spencer died at the Canadian War Memorial Hospital, Cliveden, on 14th December 1959.


Scope and content/abstract:

A sketchbook by Stanley Spencer, c 1919-1924 with one loose sketch of Gilbert Spencer by Stanley Spencer, c 1906-1908.

The Sketchbook contains 37 pages with sketches on front and back of pages, 4 loose sheets and 2 torn pages. Most sketches are made in pencil. However, 12 sketches are finished in pencil and wash, and 1 sketch in pencil and oil.

The sketchbook spans Spencer's time spent with the Slessers in Bourne End from late 1919-1920, with Muirhead Bone and his wife at Petersfield in 1921 and his stay with Henry Lamb in Poole, Dorset in April 1923 where he produced designs for what would later become the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere. The sketchbook is significant in that it includes initial ideas for a number of post-First World War religious works, including some Tate-owned paintings, notably 'Christ Carrying the Cross', 1920, 'The Robing of Christ and the Disrobing of Christ', 1922, and 'The Resurrection, Cookham', 1924-26. It also includes a number of designs (many in pencil and wash) for Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclare which are amongst some of the earliest sketches that Spencer created for this commission.

The loose sketch of Spencer's brother, Gilbert Spencer, is a pre-Slade School sketch of c 1906-1908 of his magnum opus.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Single notebook

Conditions governing access:

Open. Access to all registered researchers.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Usual copyright restrictions apply

Finding aids:

Word processed page by page inventory of sketches accompanies the collection.

Detailed catalogue


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Purchased by Tate Archive from Christie's, 4 June 2004.



Archivist's note: Entry compiled by Suzanne Keyte for AIM25 from the Tate Archive catalogue

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with the General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD (G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997

Date(s) of descriptions: 2005

Christian art | Religious art | Art styles
Portrait painting | Painting | Fine arts
Portraits | Paintings | Painting | Fine arts

Personal names
Spencer | Sir | Stanley | 18911959 | Knight | artist

Corporate names