A Bit More About Us
The Stanley Spencer Gallery is dedicated to the life experience and imaginative world of one of Britain’s most talented artists. Its regular programme of summer and winter exhibitions promotes inspiration and enjoyment through expertly curated encounters with high quality art.
Located in the heart of Cookham village, the Gallery is uniquely connected to Stanley Spencer’s spiritual home and lifelong source of artistic inspiration.
The Stanley Spencer Gallery is led and run by a community of volunteers who are passionate about the art they care for, the artist who created it and the environment that inspired him throughout his life. Through their freely given talents, entrepreneurship, professionalism and collaborations the Gallery remains creative, independent and self-funded sixty years after its foundation.
The Gallery is a Fully Accredited Museum under the scheme administered by Arts Council England.
The Artist – A Short Biography
Stanley was born on June 30th 1891. He was the eighth surviving child of Annie and William Spencer, and he was joined a year later by his younger brother Gilbert.
Grandfather Julius was a master builder and built at least two of Spencers’ homes – the family house on the High Street, and later the home he shared for a while with his sister Annie at Cliveden View on the High Road in Cookham Rise.
After his informal schooling he was sponsored by Lady Boston of Hedsor to go to the Maidenhead Technical Institute (where his father insisted he must not take any exams) and in 1908 on to the Slade School of Fine Art in London. This was the premier art school in the country and he was taught by Henry Tonks. He picked up the nickname ‘Cookham’ because of his love for the village, and his habit of coming home from London everyday after classes. His work began to be appreciated; he won several prizes and was included in Roger Fry’s important Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in 1912
Before the Great War, Cookham was still a rural idyll. On the High Street were a butchers, bakers, chemists and forge. Ovey’s Farm was opposite his childhood home and young Stan would watch the cows come into the yard from his bedroom window. The brewhouse at the end of the street formed the backdrop for several paintings. Gilbert wrote of ‘the excitement of the Regatta and fair on Cookham Moor…..where the social barriers were down and the mix up was attractive and complete’.
Stanley left Cookham for the first time for any length of time when he was posted to Beaufort Hospital near Bristol in 1915. He had enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps. In 1916 he was posted to Macedonia, and he later applied to transfer to the Infantry and went to the Front Line in 1917.
The War had a profound effect on Stanley, and when he returned to Cookham he said he had lost that ‘early morning feeling’ which had so awakened his spirit. He was an official war artist and painted ‘Travoys with Wounded Soldiers’ (Imperial War Museum) and his magnificent Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere is one of the greatest of all war memorials with murals depicting his life in the army.
In 1925 he married Hilda Carline, sister of his friend and fellow artist Richard Carline. Hilda was also an artist, and their family home was in Hampstead, London. For some time they lived by the Heath until moving to Burghclere in 1927. He also held his first one man exhibition in London in 1927 where ‘The Resurrection Cookham’ was a sensation.
By 1932 he was back in Cookham with his two daughters and Hilda. He then met Patricia Preece, an aspiring artist who lived in the village with her close friend, another, more talented artist called Dorothy Hepworth. She was an exotic creature who entranced Stanley. He loved to take her to the large department store in Maidenhead and buy her jewels and furs. She became a model for several of his paintings and eventually his relationship with her led to his divorce from Hilda.
In 1937 – four days after the divorce, he married Patricia Preece. The marriage was an immediate failure, not least because Stanley stayed in Cookham while Patricia and Dorothy left for the honeymoon in St Ives together. Today Patricia Preece would be called ‘high maintenance’ and Stanley paid her considerable expenses until the day he died. Together with his responsibility for his family, and his lack of any ability to manage his own finances Spencer needed to keep painting to earn money, and his agent Dudley Tooth persuaded him to paint ‘anything that would sell’. This tended to be his magnificent landscapes and portraits. At various times Spencer said he felt no pleasure at creating these wonderful paintings, but at others would admit that, as he saw God and wonder in anything and everything, there was some satisfaction for him.
Stanley’s 2nd Wedding Day
In 1940 he was again commissioned as a war artist and asked to paint the shipbuilders on the Clyde. At the time he was staying and working at The White Hart Inn, Leonard Stanley, Gloucestershire with George and Daphne Charlton from 1939-1941 . In 1946 he finished the series Shipbuilding on the Clyde in his house in Cookham. (Imperial War Museum)
He died in 1959 and during his lifetime he was awarded the CBE and knighted, and had been elected to the Royal Academy. Hilda remained the love of his life, and he continued to write to even after her death. He was a most sociable character who has often been called eccentric and Patricia in her diaries even called him ‘mad’. As a character he was certainly different and unusual. The small man with twinkling eyes and shaggy grey hair (often wearing his pyjamas under his suit if it was cold) became a familiar sight wandering the lanes of Cookham pushing the old pram in which he carried his canvas and easel. He was also undoubtedly one of our greatest British artists.
The Stanley Spencer Gallery’s permanent collection has developed since its foundation in 1962. It continues to grow thanks to generous gifts and bequests, as well as through occasional and carefully selected purchases. In addition, the Gallery welcomes and retains on long-term loan other works by Spencer.
Works from the Gallery’s collection are available for loan to exhibitions held in other institutions in the UK and abroad.
The Sir Stanley Spencer Memorial Trust has as its principal objective the foundation, maintenance, improvement and support of an art gallery to be situated in the village of Cookham or elsewhere in England and Wales. This Gallery is to be known as ‘The Stanley Spencer Memorial Gallery’, be open to all members of the public without distinction and used to display paintings and other works of art by the late Sir Stanley Spencer RA, as well as other artists from time to time.
The Trust is controlled by its governing document (dated 26 May 1961) and subsequent amendments, and constitutes an unincorporated charity (Charity number: 307989).
Dr Scot McKendrick FSA
Scot McKendrick has served as a Trustee since 2004 and Chair of Trustees since 2017. He was invited to join the trustees on account of his extensive professional experience in the cultural and heritage sectors. Scot is an Expert Adviser to the UK Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, member of the Executive Board of the Consortium of European Research Libraries, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, membre étranger associé of the Académie Royale d’Archéologie de Belgique and Trustee of Britten-Pears Arts. He has led several research projects with international partners and been a member of various research and editorial boards. From 2006 to 2016 he was a Trustee of the Sir Winston Churchill Archive Trust.
Scot is currently Head of Western Heritage Collections at the British Library. He joined the Library in 1986 after reading Greats at Oxford and undertaking postgraduate research at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He is the author of numerous publications on manuscripts and medieval art.
The Viscount Astor
William Astor is Chairman of Silvergate Media Ltd , a media and intellectual property company with offices in London, New York and Beijing.
William served as a Minister in the Governments of Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major from 1990 to 1997, was Conservative Opposition Spokesman from 1997 to 2011 and currently sits in Parliament in the House of Lords as a Conservative Peer.
William has been a Trustee since 1974. His father was one of the three founding trustees.
Amanda Bradley Petitgas
Amanda Bradley Petitgas is an art historian who specialises in Stanley Spencer. Whilst working as a paintings and sculpture curator at the National Trust, she curated Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War at Somerset House and Pallant House, which exhibited Spencer’s works from Sandham Memorial Chapel. She now chairs the Stanley Spencer Gallery Exhibitions Committee, and curates many of the exhibitions at the Gallery, including Patron Saints: Collecting Stanley Spencer (2018). She has been a Trustee since 2016.
Since graduating from the Courtauld Institute of Art (MA, 2002) she has worked at the University of Cambridge, the National Gallery and for the National Trust. She has published on sixteenth-century Venice, Rubens, the history of collecting and Modern British art. She is a co-founder and Chair of the Athena Art Foundation, a public education charity which promotes the understanding of pre-modern art.
Peter Brown MVO
Peter Brown joined the management team at the Stanley Spencer Gallery in 2010 as Security Manager after retiring from the Metropolitan Police. Over time he took on responsibility for managing the building and its equipment and in 2017 was invited to become a Trustee. Peter continues to be responsible for the building and its security and additionally, assists the Exhibition Committee with the hanging process of new exhibitions.
Andrew de Mille BBS MBA MCIOF (Ret’d)
Andy de Mille first became a Trustee in 2009, with responsibility for loans for exhibitions. The following year he curated the Summer Exhibition, “Stanley and the First Mrs Spencer”. He was then Chair of the Management Committee from 2011 until 2016, when he stepped down from all Gallery involvement to devote time to family (arrival of first grandchildren), painting and other interests. He returned to the Gallery as a Trustee in 2019, with responsibility for loans and lender relationships.
Andy was educated at Fettes, in Edinburgh, Trinity College Dublin (business studies), and Cranfield School of Management (MBA). In his 40-year career in fundraising development consultancy he worked with over 200 charitable organisations including many small museums. In all cases he was concerned with strategic planning, management, development, and governance, creating fitness to receive substantial funding.
He is a very strong advocate of training to achieve high standards of professionalism, even in a voluntarily staffed and managed organisation, believing that the passion and commitment of knowledgeable volunteers can deliver the best visitor experience in a small museum.
Clare Mitchell has over 20 years of professional experience working in the museums sector as a collections management specialist.
Following a degree in Art and Design History and an MA in Museum Studies, Clare started her career as Registrar at Southampton City Art Gallery where she also became the Exhibitions and Marketing Manager. After 8 years, she moved to become Registrar of Collections and Assistant Curator at the Palace of Westminster where she stayed for a further 8 years. After 2 years as Collections Manager at Hampshire Cultural Trust, Clare knew she had the skills, knowledge and passion to help others with the practicalities and pressures of looking after a collection.
Clare was appointed Registrar of the Stanley Spencer Gallery in 2017 and became a Trustee in 2021.
The Wesleyan Chapel in Cookham High Street was built in 1846. A simple structure of brick and slate, it could accommodate a congregation of up to 107. Stanley Spencer attended the chapel with his mother whose brother had been a local preacher there. The services made a deep impression upon the young artist and he felt a great spiritual significance within the little building, so much so that over thirty years later he was able to recall it in great detail when drawing Ecstasy in a Wesleyan Chapelwhich is now in Gallery’s collection.
The chapel became underused once a larger Methodist Church was built in nearby Cookham Rise in 1904 and eventually closed, much to the chagrin of the Spencer family who fought hard to keep it open. Stanley’s brother Gilbert Spencer recalled On April 17th 1910 Stan and I saw the key turned in the door of Cookham Chapel for the last time after the evening service. And with this, I think an important and significant influence in my brother’s life came to an end.
The building was then converted by local benefactor Colonel Ricardo into the “King’s Hall”, a reading and recreation room for village residents, and continued as such until the Second World War, after which it was used for various activities, including a life drawing class suggested by Stanley Spencer.
After Spencer’s death in 1959 Faith Gibbon, a young artist whom he had befriended, was using the former chapel as a studio. She invited the steering committee of the newly founded Stanley Spencer Memorial Trust to visit her, at which point it was decided that the perfect venue for The Stanley Spencer Gallery had been found. A simple conversion took place; the side windows were blocked in to allow more hanging space and a new floor, doors and lights were installed.
In 2006/7 the building was completely refurbished at a cost of over £800,000 thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and was reopened on 29 September 2007, creating a modern, light space which displays Spencer’s works to their best advantage. A mezzanine floor was added and new state of the art equipment installed in a sympathetic renovation which reclaims the simple beauty of the building which Stanley Spencer so loved.