Florido writes: "The stillness of the bulky figures immediately brought to mind old Italian masters from the 15th century – Fra Angelico, Ghirlandaio, above all Piero – but the earthy mid-tones that blend them into their background felt uniquely local to me. The unexpected apparition of arms, fences, doors and bodies in that humid landscape led me to perceive mystery and mysticism in what seemed to be a mundane, daily event. There was a quality of typical English culture in the way the figures gathered in this park, or maybe just someone’s backyard."
Moss writes: "Sometimes Spencer casts these self-contained figures as celestial angels or Jesus and the apostles and the parallels with the complicated inner world he created in his beloved Cookham are unmistakeable. At times it seems as though each cherubic figure is the artist incarnate – an innocent locked into his own peculiar world. In this sense Spencer seems like a Blakean figure - complicated and curious - painting strange yet familiar forms that inhabit a place of his own making... The textures are impressive too; the towels, the sponges, the cotton sheets are all rendered in surprizing detail. Intricacies such as the reflections in the water spilled by the soldier as he washes, or the light dappling the interior of a bell tent show the extraordinary amount of care and attention Spencer invested in his painting."
Vaizey writes that the venue "provides an unrepeatable experience, as we are able to see the newly restored paintings close up in bright light, appreciate the dizzying changes of scale, and the detail, often almost exquisite, of tent and military uniform and kit, the sand and arid landscape of Macedonia, the prison-like aspect of the Bristol hospital, the explosions of foliage and blossom. All is in a restricted range of colours – ochres, reds, rusts, browns, whites, occasional deep blues – which nevertheless convey bursts of light. Facial expressions are almost uniformly wooden, any liveliness apparent in body language. Spencer, through his own intensely idiosyncratic, eccentric, inimitable idiom, somehow conveys a range of expressions from acceptance, through resignation, to hope. He continually plays with the passive – the sleeping men – and the active, the hospital orderlies, the soldiers anticipating action."
Vaizey writes that the exhibition examines six students of Slade teacher Henry Tonks (1862-1937) who "presided over several generations of London-based artists who formed the bedrock of modernism, from the absorption of Impressionism to the various isms of the turn of the last century. He referred to this cohort of his students, here being celebrated, as 'a crisis of brilliance.' It is the generation who first gaily embraced the bohemian freedoms of art school and then were tempered by the horrors of World War I ... Several [artists] have only relatively recently been revalued – CRW Nevinson and David Bomberg, for example – while others have been studied, shown, admired and honoured for several generations, notably the eccentric Stanley Spencer."
Alex Cohen muses on Stanley Spencer's painting The Builders, 1935.
Cohen writes: "Spencer was a master at elevating ordinary acts into deeply emotive and even divine experiences. By letting his compassion for ordinariness spill from masonry to the secret lives of birds he expanded the idea of home. Illustrating the bird’s perspective alongside the builders creates a harmony that draws ones attention to unassuming detail. One feels the labor and love behind each brick that makes a building just as each leaf on a tree is meaningful to the birds. Spencer didn’t paint the birds with human attributes as a Disney cartoon might, but sympathized with what would feel familiar to a birds’ perspective."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.