Friday, 10 January 2014

Stanley Spencer: Heaven In A Hell Of War

Portrait of Spencer by Henry Lamb
I thought I'd get away with seeing this exhibition alone whilst everybody was out of London for the Christmas break, but it was still hopelessly crowded. Apparently it is only the second time that these murals have ever been shown in London, (the last time was 33 years ago), so it's no wonder the exhibition was so well attended. I shall have to try to sneak back now everybody has returned to work for a better, unobstructed view.

These mural paintings by Stanley Spencer are taken from the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, Hampshire, and are Spencer's depiction of his wartime experiences. They were commissioned by John Louis and Mary Behrend to honour the forgotten dead of the First World War. The murals have been lent out for exhibition whilst the chapel at Sandham is undergoing renovation work.  

There are 17 mural paintings on show at Somerset House and a projection of the altar piece which cannot travel because it is permanently attached to the chapel wall at Sandham. This series of paintings took six years to complete and were finished in 1932. There are also some interesting paintings by Spencer's friend and fellow artist Henry Lamb such as the portrait of Spencer (top).

I like that in a similar vision to Eric Ravilious, Spencer chooses not to depict the horrors of combat, and instead focuses on the domestic and small incidences of life during wartime when he was both a hospital orderly here at Beaufort Military Hospital, Bristol, and also a soldier abroad on the front at Salonika. I really like Spencer's painting technique, and the unusual viewpoints adopted in the murals, as well as the way he contorts the figures to fit into the picture planes.

Stanley Spencer: Heaven In A Hell Of War continues until the 26th January 2014
Terrace Rooms, South Wing, Somerset House, London