Stanley Spencer by Chute (1916)
Drawing, Pencil on paper, 367mm x 267mm
Portrait of Stanley Spencer by Desmond Chute
Spencer liked to give a highly coloured and slightly doctored account of his initial meeting with Desmond Chute at the Beaufort War Hospital, Bristol, in November 1915: ‘I was amazed to note that this youth in a beautiful civilian suit was walking towards me as if he meant to speak to me; the usual visitors to the hospital passed us orderlies by as they would pass a row of bedpans.’ Although four years younger than Spencer, Chute’s friendship would introduce Spencer to classical literature, and in their discussions of religion and walks around Clifton, would provide Spencer with much needed solace from institutional life in which the hospital was a power unto itself. Chute had spent a brief period at the Slade from 1913 until the outbreak of war, and this drawing was made on the eve of Spencer’s departure from Bristol. From 1916 to 1926 Spencer wrote a notable series of letters to Chute, which are now in the collection of the Stanley Spencer Gallery. Begun as soon as he left the Beaufort War Hospital, they describe his further military service, training with the RAMC at Tweseldown Camp near Farnham and then in the RAMC and infantry in Salonika; the final letters were written after the end of the war and his return to England. Vivid, imaginative and compellingly written, they have a numinous quality and contain reflections on a diverse range of topics, from his voracious reading, to art, music and religion. A Roman Catholic, Chute was later a member of Eric Gill’s Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling Common, leaving to become ordained as a Dominican priest and to live abroad, mostly in Rapallo.