Stanley Spencer

DirectorDavid Rowan
One line synopsisThe life and work of British painter, Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), best known for his wartime and religious images.

Self-portrait sketches. Water. VO: "From my many selves, I wanted to make an autobiography which my paintings and drawings would take part in… trying to find something that I like, the essential me". Water. Stanley Spencer VO photographs of himself and family saying that no matter what his background might have been, "everything would still have depended on how happy [he] was…". VO talking about parents and family life. Photographs of "Fernlea", the family house, of Cookham, etc. Flowers and other plants, "the magical out of doors"; VO talking about countryside at Cookham. Spencer VO on "a kind of religious significance" about life and "a longing to be joined, at one with that wonderful religious atmosphere…". Countryside. Spencer VO continues, remembering wondering if he would be able to describe what he saw. Early sketches, Thoughts of a Dutch Boy and illustrations to stories he’d heard; VO says these had no magic so he decided to draw Cookham Common. Sketches, winter scenes near Cookham; Spencer’s VO. River at Odney; Spencer VO talking about people swimming there and about winter light. Fields; Spencer’s VO talking about his "terrific need" to make his drawings work for him, and about a visit to the farm at Mill Lane. Animals. Sketch of Woman Feeding a Calf with Spencer’s VO describing it and the feeling of being "part of this wonder". Sketch, The New Shawl; the nursery at "Fernlea". VO describing the room and the view from the window. Spencer’s VO over garden scenes. The Neighbours (1936) replicates the view down from the nursery. Swan-Upping at Cookham (c.1915-1919); VO explains that his own thoughts "married" the people to the place and that he didn’t look at the actual scene until he had his composition clear in his mind. Baptism (1952) places Christ’s baptism below Odney weir; VO talks about criticism for distortion in figure painting. St Francis and the Birds (1935); VO says that the form of the saint intensifies "his union with nature". Spencer wheeling his easel away on a pram; VO talks about having to become a landscape painter to earn money. Cookham from Cookham Dene (1938); detail. Gardens in the Pound, Cookham (1936); Spencer’s VO talking about the need for "close adherence" to his subject: "landscapes and portraits are the exact reverse of the other pictures" and he believes he has no ability in these areas. Wisteria (c.1942). Another garden picture. Turk’s Boatyard, Cookham (c.1931). Spencer sketching. VO describes his "compositional drawings as the consummation of love": several pictures. Photograph of Spencer with fellow students; VO describes his art school experience as "exterior happenings". A Self Portrait.

Frontispiece to The Child’s Bible. VO talking about this period encouraging him to look forward to "some world or heaven"; the Bible "was part and parcel of it" and he found paint to be the best medium "to bring that awareness to life". Garden at Cookham. Early painting, Two Girls and a Beehive (1910). Fields, etc; VO quotes John Dunne, "going to Heaven by Heaven", and describes imagining four figures in the meadow; the resulting painting, John Donne Arriving in Heaven (1911). Snail; chickens; wall; VO talks about "visions" being prompted by many things; Zacharias and Elizabeth (1913-1914) came from seeing a gardener at work – VO describes the painting. Photographs of residents of Cookham where "scenes from the Bible could happen anywhere": Christ Carrying the Cross (1920) in Cookham High Street. VO describing sources of some of the different elements. The Last Supper (1920), set inside a Cookham malthouse. The Betrayal (1922-1923), set at the back of "Fernlea"; photographs of Spencer at work on this painting; VO says that "the drawing and painting [of those early works] was the experiencing of heaven", but The Betrayal marked a personal change. Photographs of Spencer working on The Resurrection (aka The Cookham Resurrection, 1924-1927). Sunset; VO describes feeling this as similar to "the passing from this life to the next". Churchyard. VO describing imagining "the resurrection happen…". Film of Spencer talking about the painting and its different levels of meaning; details, including a representation of himself.

First World War: street scenes, soldiers parading, recruitment. Photograph of Spencer; his VO talks about needing an atmosphere where it was "excusable to be quite happy without the danger of being complacent" which became impossible in war time. River scenes. Recruitment posters. Self Portrait (1914). VO talking about being in the Royal Army Medical Corps: photographs of military hospitals; training. Footage of troops on the Balkan front: VO talking about liking the wildness of the Macedonian landscape, and experiences there. Trenches and wagons; VO on transferring to a fighting regiment at Kalinova, and being commissioned, as the war ended, to be an official War Artist. Travoys Arriving With Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol, Macedonia, September, 1916 (1919); VO describes elements of the painting. Sketches of other wartime scenes which became the paintings (1927-1932) in the Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere. Convoy Arriving with Wounded. VO describing life at the Beaufort War Hospital, Bristol. Details of Sorting the Laundry. Filling Tea Urns. VO describes menial activities such as Washing Lockers in which he must – and did – find meaning. Hospital interior; tiled floor of corridor. Scrubbing the Floor. Tea in the Hospital Ward. VO describes how the paintings were constructed; images based on observations from Kalinova, Karasuli, etc.: The Resurrection of the Soldiers; details (including depiction of Spencer) with VO describing them. Ablutions. Reveille. The Chapel doors open to reveal the altar piece; Spencer at the Chapel; his VO describing Resurrection of the Soldiers, its sources, and its emphasis on the men’s religious experiences.

Countryside round the Chapel; VO explaining that, in 1932, Spencer’s marriage to Hilda Carline was coming to an end, and he "had forsaken that vision of the innocent me", painting landscapes to earn money. Photograph. A Self Portrait. Orchard; VO his thoughts on marriage; another Self Portrait. Apple Gatherers (1912-1913), an expression of a "presiding divinity". VO describes being in love; photograph of Hilda; Self Portrait (1923). A set of four photographs of Hilda; family photographs; sketch Portrait of Hilda (1931); Hilda With Hair Down (1931). Representations of Hilda in The Resurrection. A portrait of Patricia Preece. Self Portrait with Patricia Preece (1937). Separating Fighting Swans (c.1932-1933). Picture of Patricia at Cock Marsh. Hilda with Bluebells (1955). Seated Nude (Hilda) (1942). Family Group: Hilda, Unity and Dolls (1937). Hilda and I at Burghclere (1955). Domestic scenes including Taking off the Collar, and At the Chest of Drawers (1936). VO throughout, talking about the relationships. Washing line. Dustbins. Spencer VO talking about everything becoming part of some "inward harmony". Photograph. The Dustman (or the Lovers) (1934); VO describing the work: "There is the same mystery in these three objects [teapot, cabbage stalk, empty jam tin] as there is in the Trinity." Sunflower and Dog Worship (called here The Adoration of Dogs and Sunflowers) (1937); similar VO talking about "oneness" of people and flowers. VO talks about "erotic awakening. A painting of Heaven (c.1938). VO describes the painting and talks about it as having a "religious quality … though it was not easy for people to recognise it". Paintings from The Beatitudes of Love series (1937-1938) including: Contemplation and Desire (or Passion). Love among the Nations (1936); VO describes details, the emotions of those pictured, etc. Designs for a "chapel of peace" which "would house all these figure paintings". VO describes the ideas behind it.

Photograph of Spencer. VO describes decision to leave Cookham because of being "criticised and misunderstood". Hampstead; Spencer’s room. Self Portrait (1936). VO describes working on ideas for the Christ in the Wilderness series. Sketches. The Foxes Have Holes (1939); Rising from Sleep in the Morning (1940); another painting; The Eagles (1939). The Foxes Have Holes over mantelpiece. VO describes the series of paintings and Spencer’s thoughts about the images. Spencer’s VO reading passages from the Bible accompanies appropriate paintings: Driven by the Spirit into the Wilderness (1939); He Departed unto a Mountain to Pray (1940); The Scorpion (1939); The Hen; unfinished panel. Self Portrait (1939). Interior Cookham Church; paintings arranged as panels for the chancel ceiling. Film of Spencer talking about art, himself, and sparrows in the Glasgow shipyards. Photographs of Spencer at the Lithgow shipyards; VO talks about the "epic in paint of all the different jobs" there: panning view of two of the panels – Bending the Keel Plate (1943) and Riveters (1941) – of Shipbuilding on the Clyde series (1939-1945); VO compares shipbuilding to a woman making a dress. Shipyard scenes (VO describes Spencer’s impressions) and paintings including Riggers; details from Welders (1941); Burners (1940); men leaving work. Port Glasgow (1944) and another painting. Scenes in Glasgow cemetery; VO talking about the inspiration for the Port Glasgow Resurrection series (1947-1950): one of the paintings. Film of Spencer [Pathe News: Royal Academy Take Back Old Rebel, January 1950] getting out of bed, fully dressed, lighting stove, cottage, a "Stanley" writing pad, pages from notebook; VO talking about this period and about Hilda; Love Letters (1950); VO points out that this was the year Hilda died. Water. Film of Spencer pushing his materials on pram; notebook pages; Cookham Moor (1937); Love on the Moor (1937-1955); VO continues to talk about Hilda and the experience of being on the Moor. Photographs of Spencer; film of him painting something from the Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta series (1953-1959; VO says that after marrying Hilda and his work expanding to "include so much besides the divine vision", he felt "more involved with the created than the Creator", and finding his own "special God". The river; Dinner on the Hotel Lawn (1956-1957); Spencer VO talking about the regatta itself, and about the paintings; VO saying that he, "making love to everyone" is the same as the preaching Christ figure: The Elders; unfinished painting; Listening from Punts (1954). Photograph of Spencer working on the unfinished painting. Self Portrait (1959). Commentary quotes last writing: "I’m never weary; I’m never bored. Sadness and sorrow are not me." Spencer VO talking about not being "special" but having maintained his "sense of wonder". Credits.

Production companyArbor Films
Running time57 minutes
Full credits

Photography David Rowan;
Burghclere Chapel Clive Tickner;
Sound Angus McKenzie,
Peter Harvey,
Mike Billing;
Script Consultant Eric Rowan;
Production Assistants Mick Audsley,
Felicity Oliver,
Mick Duffield;
Designer John Speirs;
Thanks to Shirin Spencer,
Unity Spencer,
Caroline Leder,
Nicholas Tooth,
Richard Carline,
Keith Bell,
Rev. & Mrs Westropp,
Scott & Lithgow Ltd.,
The Friends of Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham,
Imperial War Museum London,
Tate Gallery London,
Fitzwilliam Cambridge,
Piccadilly Gallery London,
Ulster Museum Belfast,
Harris Art Gallery Preston,
Leeds City Art Gallery,
Anthony D’Offay Gallery London,
City of Manchester Art Galleries,
Glasgow City Art Gallery.
Director David Rowan;
Producer Margaret Williams,
Arbor Films.
Arts Council of Great Britain © 1979.

Film segmentStanley Spencer - ACE088.2
Stanley Spencer - ACE088.3
Stanley Spencer - ACE088.4
Stanley Spencer - ACE088.5
Stanley Spencer - ACE088.6
Stanley Spencer - ACE088.7
Web address (URL)

Permalink -

Share this

Usage statistics

83 total views
0 total downloads
These values cover views and downloads from WestminsterResearch and are for the period from September 2nd 2018, when this repository was created.