Which of the following photographs matches the picture you have in your mind’s eye of Stanley Spencer?
They are of course all of the artist, but each one projecting a very different image. The archive at The Stanley Spencer Gallery contains many photographs which have been used over the years in publications, tv, films, and for our own exhibition, education, access and talks programmes. They add a different dimension to the Spencer story, but also prompt questions about the public face of the artist and the way he was often portrayed in the papers.
In his own lifetime Stanley Spencer had become something of a media celebrity.
In 1944 he starred in ‘Out of Chaos’, Jill Craigie’s ground- breaking documentary film about the art of the Second World War – his antics in the Port Glasgow Shipyards featuring alongside Henry Moore in the London Underground, Paul Nash at Cowley Dump and Kenneth Clark making his debut in front of the camera. When he was re-admitted to the RA in 1950 a Pathé newsreel, ‘Royal Academy Take Back Old Rebel’, portrayed a caricature of him and his lifestyle. A much more measured approach was taken by John Read in 1956 when he made a two part film for the BBC about Spencer at home and at war.
At the same time the members of the press were fascinated by Stanley Spencer – his colourful lifestyle, controversial views and paintings made very good copy and his seeming total disregard for his own appearance provided wonderful photo opportunities of an eccentric dishevelled artist. How surprised people must have been when an elegant overcoated Stanley Spencer appeared in Vogue, and was also photographed by Ida Kar a Bohemian photographer of the day well known for capturing iconic images of cutting- edge artists.
How much Stanley Spencer himself had to do with the creation and promotion of his own image, it is hard to tell. Although totally sincere in his artistic vision, he was in the business of selling paintings – aided professionally and personally by his agent Dudley Tooth. There is however no doubt he will have been aware of how others saw and portrayed him, and played up to it with typical Spencer humour!
Ann Danks – Archivist.
Below are some examples of the artist and his works: