8 rooms in Spotlights
Step into the artistic imagination of Stanley Spencer, rooted in his hometown and his religious belief
A devout Christian, Spencer believed God was present in all things and the miraculous could be found in everyday events. In his early paintings, Cookham – the small town in Berkshire where he was born – became the setting for Christian narratives. This display includes work from across his career. It spans drawings he made as a student to visionary large-scale religious painting and the realistic landscapes and portraits he made later in his life.
Though he spent periods of his life elsewhere, Cookham was always Spencer’s personal and artistic centre. He attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1908 to 1912 but didn’t live in the city. Instead he would return to his family home by train every evening and was nicknamed ‘Cookham’ by his fellow students. Cookham is an ancient settlement on the Thames. During Spencer’s lifetime, its small population was almost exclusively English, white and Christian. But for him, the place and its inhabitants could be used to depict universal spiritual stories.
Drawing was the focus of study at the Slade. Students were encouraged to admire and emulate the techniques of pre-1800 European art. Spencer made precise observational work and engaged deeply with historical art. However, he also developed a highly personal visual style. In his visionary paintings, he deliberately distorted scale and combined closely observed and imagined elements. This allowed him to emphasise the narrative and mystical atmosphere of his subjects.
Explore Stanley Spencer's uniquely British vision
Tate EtcJean-Christophe Ammann on Stanley Spencer
Adrian Glew leafs through one of Stanley Spencer’s sketchbooks in the Tate Archive