Tate Britain
22 March – 24 June 2001

A major exhibition of the work of Stanley Spencer opens at Tate Britain on 22 March. Sponsored by Prudential plc, it provides a unique opportunity to see more than a hundred of his finest paintings and drawings from private and public collections all over the world. The exhibition is curated by the artist and writer Timothy Hyman and the cultural historian Patrick Wright, and is designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Claudio Silvestrin.

Stanley Spencer (1891 - 1959) is one of the masters of twentieth-century British art. The exhibition presents a concise retrospective which sees Spencer not as a merely eccentric English oddity but as a major artist linked thematically and stylistically to the painting of his time and profoundly engaged with the changing nature of modern experience. It includes all Spencer’s best-loved works, but also many that are less familiar, including some never seen together before, such as the selection from the Beatitudes of Love series of 1937-8. The exhibition also includes two specially made films: the first presenting the murals in the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere; the second a digital recreation of Spencer’s imagined space for much of his later work, the Church-House project.

Spencer was an outstanding student at the Slade School of Art in London, and the first section of the exhibition is devoted to his early work, reflecting influences from Giotto to Gauguin. This early flowering culminates in masterpieces such as The Nativity 1912 and Zacharias and Elizabeth 1914, (recently purchased jointly by Tate and Sheffield City Art Gallery). In both, a biblical theme is embedded within the setting of the Berkshire village of Cookham where Spencer grew up and lived for much of his life.

His experiences of the First World War became the inspiration for the Burghclere Chapel cycle (1927 -32). But in the 1930s Spencer’s imagery was fuelled by marital and stylistic crisis, resulting in a flow of extraordinary paintings, many pointing in contradictory directions. The naked portraits of Patricia Preece, the often under-appreciated landscapes, the Beatitudes of Love series, the Last Day series for the Church-House and the Christ in the Wilderness sequence (loaned from Perth, Australia) were all painted in this period.

The Second World War saw Spencer as an official war artist commissioned to paint the shipyard at Port Glasgow in Scotland, and a return to images of his first wife Hilda, such as Love Letters lent by the Thyssen Foundation, and Hilda and I at Pond Street 1954, made four years after her death, from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Throughout the show there is a continuing theme of Spencer’s self-portraits, ending with the poignant image of 1959 when he was dying from cancer.

A major catalogue accompanies the exhibition (£29.99, 256 pp).

Advance booking: First Call 0870 842 2233
Open daily 10.00 - 17.50 Last admission 17.00