Sir Stanley Spencer

Self-Portrait

1959

Artist
Sir Stanley Spencer 1891–1959
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 508 x 406 mm
frame: 665 x 565 x 80mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982
Reference
T03335

Not on display

Display caption

This is Spencer's final self-portrait and one of his last paintings. In December 1958 he discovered that he was suffering from cancer and underwent an operation. Unfortunately the malignancy was not excised and Spencer died on 14 December 1959. Five months before his death he stayed with friends in Yorkshire where he painted this portrait. Although seriously ill he finished the picture in five days, in the drawing room of the house, using a bedroom mirror. The work is remarkable for the unflinching scrutiny of the artist's gaze, and its use of extreme close-up to convey a sense of physical and psychological intensity.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

T03335 SELF-PORTRAIT 1959

Not inscribed
Oil on canvas, 20 × 16 (50.7 × 40.6)
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982
Prov: Given by the artist to Mrs Joy Fothergill Smith 1959; Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982
Exh: Critic's Choice, Arthur Tooth & Sons, October 1959 (2, repr.); RA, April–August 1960 (72); British Painting 1952–1977, RA, September–November 1977 (335, repr.); Stanley Spencer RA, RA, September–December 1980 (280, repr.)
Lit: Maurice Collis, Stanley Spencer: A Biography, 1962, p.236, repr.facing p.225; Keith Bell, catalogue of the Spencer RA exhibition, 1980, pp.228–9
Repr: Sir John Rothenstein, Stanley Spencer the Man: Correspondence and Reminiscences, 1979, facing p.129 and detail in colour on dust jacket; The Tate Gallery: Illustrated Biennial Report 1980–82, 1983, p.48

In December 1958 Stanley Spencer was found to be suffering from cancer, and he underwent a colostomy operation and remained in hospital for about six weeks; unfortunately the malignancy was not excised and he died on 14 December 1959 at the Canadian War Memorial Hospital at Cleveden, Berkshire.

In July 1959 Spencer went to stay, for about a fortnight, with friends in Yorkshire, Mrs Joy Fothergill Smith and her family in Dewsbury. There he drew a self-portrait in conté-crayon. He also made on oil painting, similar in size, which is this picture, using a canvas bought in an artists' material shop in Leeds. According to Bell (op.cit.), he first drew the outline on the canvas in conté. The picture was painted in the drawing room of the house using the looking-glass brought downstairs from Spencer's bedroom. The picture frame seen behind his head is that of a pastel of cranes by Edward Stott.

On a typewritten label on the back of the picture, initialled by Spencer's hostess, Mrs Smith, at the time of its acquisition by the Tate, is written ‘Self-portrait by/STANLEY SPENCER/Sunday July 12th to/Thursday July 16th 1959/Painted in the drawing room/Hill Head House/Dewsbury/Yorkshire’, then in ink ‘J.M.F.S.’

At least six other self-portraits in oils of himself alone by Spencer are known. The earliest of 1914 is also in the Tate Gallery; others date from 1923 and 1924 (private collections), 1936 (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), 1939 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and 1944 (Massey Collection, National Gallery, Ottawa, Canada). Spencer also depicted himself in some of his complex compositions, such as the Tate's large ‘Resurrection, Cookham’ 1924–6, and with either his first or second wife. According to Bell (op.cit.) the 1959 self-portrait was his penultimate oil painting, the last being the portrait of Mrs Michael Westropp.

The compiler is grateful to Mrs Joy Fothergill Smith for help with information for this catalogue entry.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

Tate Etc.

MicroTate 15

Individual reflections on a work in the Tate collection