COUNTERPOINT: Stanley Spencer and his Contemporaries will show works by Spencer alongside those by a stellar cast of 20th Century British artists, including Barnett Freedman, C.R.W. Nevinson, Edward Burra, Mark Gertler, William Roberts, Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Some of these artists were fellow students of Spencer at the Slade School of Art, but others worked later in the century, and all help us to understand how Spencer’s work fits into the canon of Modern British art at the beginning of the the 20th century.
These artists worked independently, but together created an era of creativity and originality. Counterpoint is a musical term in which separate melodies complement each other but maintain their independence. This exhibition will provide a context for Spencer’s work and also encourage new perspectives on the artistic interplay of Modern British artists.
The exhibition has been curated by Amanda Bradley who says: ‘Early twentieth century Britain saw the coming of age of a singular group of artists. Some shared the background of their arts training at the Slade School of Art. Others were less directly connected to each other, but through the lens of their collective talents we experience seismic historic events (two world wars), and vast social and economic change. Each of the artists represented here experienced and portrayed this shared history with a particular vision and expression. The exhibition’s title – Counterpoint – reflects the complementary and diverse artistic talents across the works on show.’
Counterpoint is The Stanley Spencer Gallery’s first group exhibition for many years – hitherto it has only shown works by Spencer – and is divided into seven thematic strands: ‘The Slade’, ‘The Great War’, ‘Religion’, ‘Landscape’, ‘The Artist’ Muse’, ‘The Long Weekend’ and ‘World War II’.
‘The Slade’ features a lithograph made from Spencer’s self-portrait of 1913, captured when he was in his early twenties.
Also included is Maternity, a bronze figure by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, a self-portrait woodcut by Roger Fry, a Vorticist inspired drawing, Bargee Family (1919-20), by David Bomberg and Mark Gertler’s The Doll (1914).
‘The Great War’ – Spencer initially served as a medical orderly at an army hospital in Bristol, but later became a combatant fighting in the Macedonia campaign – features four works including Wounded Being carried by Mules in Macedonia (1918-19), Pack Mules (1918-1919), along with a portrait, Albert Henry Seager (1915). On display with these is a 1918 portrait by Jacob Epstein, a lithograph by CRW Nevinson, Building Aircraft: Acetylene Welder (1917) and Eric Kennington’s Interior of an Adrian Hut (1917-1918).
Spencer famously used his beloved Cookham, the idyllic Berkshire village where he was born and lived for long periods of his adult life, as the backdrop for many of his religious paintings, witnessed here in The Last Supper (1920), St Veronica Unmasking Christ (1921), and the unfinished Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta (1952-9).
‘Landscape’ features work by David Jones (Brockley in April, 1926) and John Craxton (Knowlton Church, 1941), and Spencer’s View from Cookham Bridge (1936) and The Mill, Durweston (1920).The artist’s troubled personal life is well-documented – he was famously lured away from a happy marriage by Patricia Preece – which is eluded to in ‘Artist Muse’. There are two depictions of Preece, Portrait of Patricia Preece (1920) and Patricia at Cockmarsh Hill (1935), to be shown alongside a painting by Dod Proctor, Golden Girl (c. 1930), and a Portrait of Henry Lamb’s lover, Ottoline Morrell (1910-11).
‘The Long Weekend’ captures the period between the first and second world wars. On the Beach (1934) and The Swimming Bath (1959), by Robert Duckworth Greenham and William Roberts respectively, show people diving into pools or sunbathing at the seaside. Roberts’s slightly sinister work is offset by Spencer’s Girls Returning From A Bathe (1936), in which two fully-clothed women carry inflatable life-rings that look like giant saveloys.
The final theme, ‘World War II’, features two drawings for Spencer’s Lithgows Shipyard paintings and reunites his lithograph, Burners, with that of Barnett Freedman: Fifteen Inch Gun Turret HMS Repulse (1941), part of the same series commissioned by the National Gallery. Showing with these are Edward Burra’s 1942 painting, Ropes and Lorries, and a John Armstrong work in tempera entitled Civil Aviation (1941 – 1943).
Bradley concludes: ‘Because of the singularity of his vision, and because he was never part of a school or movement, Spencer is seen by some as standing apart, so it is a great pleasure to be showing his works alongside his contemporaries.’
The exhibition runs from 28 March – 3 November 2019.
Stanley Spencer Gallery
High Street, Cookham, Berkshire, SL6 9SJ
t: +44 (0) 16 28 47 18 85
28 March – 31 March 2019: 11.00 am to 5.00 pm
1 April – 3 November 2019: 10.30am to 5.30 pm
Admission charge: £6.00
Concessions (over 60, students): £4.50
Carers, Under 16 (with adult): free
About The Stanley Spencer Gallery:
The Stanley Spencer Gallery is located in Cookham, Berkshire, and is dedicated to the life and work of Sir Stanley Spencer. Opened in 1962, it is housed within a former Wesleyan Chapel in the High Street, a few minutes’ walk from the house where Spencer was born and where he used to worship. The gallery’s collection comprises over 100 paintings and drawings, and these are exhibited on a regular basis at the gallery, alongside loans from other public and private collections.
On the mezzanine floor level of the gallery is a small study area which houses library and archive material and a computer presentation about the artist and his work. A comprehensive selection of books and articles on Stanley Spencer and related topics is available to be consulted on the premises during opening hours.
The Gallery has won a series of accolades, including its naming as one of the five most ‘unmissable’ small Art Galleries in the UK and the award of a Michelin star in the Great Britain Michelin Green Guide 2014. The Gallery received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2016.
Exhibitions have included The Art of Shipbuilding on the Clyde (2011), Stanley Spencer in Cookham (2013 – 2014), Spencer in the Aftermath of the First World War (2014), Paradise Regained (2014), The Creative Genius of Stanley Spencer (2015), Patron Saints: Collecting Stanley Spencer (2018), Friends and Family: Portraits by Stanley (2018- 2019).