This, the last known self-portrait drawing of Stanley Spencer — executed a few months before his death in 1959 — has been acquired by the Gallery with the support of Art Fund as well as The Band Trust, The V&A Purchase Grant Fund and The Friends of Stanley Spencer Gallery.
The drawing is showcased as part of the Stanley Spencer Gallery’s current exhibition, LOVE, ART, LOSS: The Wives of Stanley Spencer at the Stanley Spencer Gallery (until Autumn 2021), which explores the relationship between arguably two of the most important figures in the artist’s life —his two wives, Hilda Carline and Patricia Preece.
Spencer drew the self-portrait in red conté while observing himself in a dressing table mirror. Conté is a harder, waxier medium than pastel, which creates a finer impression more suitable for portraits. The artist’s gaunt, weathered face is overwhelmed by the frame of his glasses. Yet the deep wrinkles of the forehead, the sagging flesh of his neck, and the grim, sloping downturn of the mouth are offset by a determination and strength found in the unflinching gaze of his right eye (his left eye squints as he searches for a clear image of himself in the mirror), and the resolute set of his eyebrows.
The drawing was conceived as a work in its own right before he painted a version in oil, now owned by Tate Britain (pictured below).