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Ablutions

Sir Stanley Spencer, CBE, RA (Cookham 1891– Cliveden 1959)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1928

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

2134 x 1854 mm (84 x 73 in)

Place of origin

Burghclere

Order this image

Collection

Sandham Memorial Chapel, Hampshire

On show at

Chapel, Sandham Memorial Chapel, Hampshire, London and South East, National Trust

NT 790178

Caption

A sense of calm activity fills this everyday scene of a bathroom at Beaufort, busy with soldiers cleaning, drying themselves, dressing and, in the case of the man at the centre of the canvas, having iodine painted onto a wound, being treated by orderlies. The detailed depiction of the sponge seen below the orderly cleaning taps, as well as the towels and the soap suds in the soldiers’ hair, shows Spencer’s fascination with painting different materials and surfaces.

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, Ablutions by Sir Stanley Spencer, CBE, RA (Cookham 1891– Cliveden 1959), 1928. In the centre, an orderly is painting a soldier’s side with iodine in a scene reminiscent of Christ being lowered from the cross with the gaping wound produced by the Holy Lance; behind him another soldier pulls on his braces, but similarly holds his arms in the position appropriate for a crucifixion, while others wash, dry and dress. Three men in the lower left foreground are drying themselves with towels, partially shrouding their naked bodies. All the pathos of military hospital life is summed up in the dedicated manner in which a second orderly is polishing the basin taps. Spencer regarded the mundane activities with a sense of religious ritual and the hospital pictures symbolize a quotation from St Augustine's Confessions: '...ever busy at rest, gathering yet never needing; bearing; filling; guarding; creating; nourishing; perfecting.'

Provenance

Given with the chapel by John Louis Behrend (1881- 1972) and Mary Sandham Behrend (1884 - 1977), 1947

Makers and roles

Sir Stanley Spencer, CBE, RA (Cookham 1891– Cliveden 1959), artist

Exhibition history

Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War, Manchester City Art Gallery, Manchester, 2013 - 2015 Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War, Somerset House, London, 2013 - 2015 Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, 2013 - 2015

References

Bell 1992 Keith Bell, Stanley Spencer, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Phaidon Press, London 1992, p.421 Pople 1991 Kenneth Pople, Stanley Spencer: A Biography, Harper Collins London, 1991, p.96-7 Stanley Spencer (ed. Keith Bell), Royal Academy of Arts, London with Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980, p.104 Behrend 1965 George Behrend, Stanley Spencer at Burghclere, London, MacDonald, 1965, p.8 Pople 1991 Kenneth Pople, Stanley Spencer: A Biography, Harper Collins London, 1991, p.96-97,122 Gough 2006 Paul Gough, Stanley Spencer: Journey to Burghclere, Samson & Company, Bristol, 2006, p.121-124

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