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St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscans, is popularly remembered for being able to talk to birds, and pray with them. Here he is shown as an old man, dressed in a Franciscan robe, talking to birds on a farm.

Stanley Spencer intended to display this painting in his ideal gallery, which he called ‘Church House’, though it was never built. The strangeness of his paintings in the 1930s implies some personal interpretation, perhaps here in the way the saint separates the boy and girl. This was one of two paintings rejected by the Royal Academy in 1935.

September 2004