Sir Stanley Spencer, CBE, RA (Cookham 1891– Cliveden 1959)
This is one of nineteen paintings by Stanley Spencer, commissioned for Sandham Memorial Chapel, a modest red-brick chapel in Hampshire built to honour the ‘forgotten dead’ of the Great War. Spencer was hugely influenced by Giotto and wanted to decorate the chapel with frescos as the early Italian master had done in Padua. The British climate put paid to that idea but the paintings hang closely together, resembling frescoes on a wall. Spencer’s religious paintings are populated with real people and are based on his experiences as an orderly and soldier during the First World War. This scene shows soldiers filling their water-bottles in Macedonia. They appear to float, with their capes resembling outstretched wings, more like angels than soldiers. Stanley’s response to the First World War was to avoid its horror and to depict instead ‘heaven in a hell of war’. A striking aspect of all his work is that he never depicted scenes of combat. Most artists condemned the war as futile and meaningless and Spencer was part of the return to unsentimental realism in European art after 1918.
Oil painting on canvas, Filling Water-bottles by Sir Stanley Spencer, CBE, RA (Cookham 1891– Cliveden 1959), 1927/32. War scene in Macedonia 1927. The soldiers are wearing topis and groundsheets. Once again two mules dominate the foreground, balancing the soldiers high up on the rocks who are gathering water from the stream-fed fountain.
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
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
Bell 1992 Keith Bell, Stanley Spencer, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Phaidon Press, London 1992, p.423 Carline 1978 Richard Carline. Stanley Spencer at War, London, Faber and Faber, 1978, p.183 Stanley Spencer (ed. Keith Bell), Royal Academy of Arts, London with Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980, p.109 Behrend 1965 George Behrend, Stanley Spencer at Burghclere, London, MacDonald, 1965, p.37 Pople 1991 Kenneth Pople, Stanley Spencer: A Biography, Harper Collins London, 1991, p.149-150 Gough 2006 Paul Gough, Stanley Spencer: Journey to Burghclere, Samson & Company, Bristol, 2006, p. 146-148