Art News

Compton Verney Presents Sir Stanley Spencer and the English Garden

artwork: Stanley Spencer - "Village Life, Gloucestershire" - Oil on canvas. Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum - © The Estate of Stanley Spencer. On view at Compton Verney in "Stanley Spencer and the English Garden"from June 25h through October 2nd.

Kineton, Warwickshire, UK.- Compton Verney’s unique blend of art expertise, Georgian architecture and breathtaking historic landscape makes it the ideal setting for an important new exhibition on one of Britain’s best-loved artists: the eccentric, quintessentially English genius Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959). “Stanley Spencer and the English Garden”, will focus on Spencer’s gorgeous garden views and landscapes of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The exhibition will be on view from June 25th through October 2nd. Spencer’s luscious garden pictures, which have often been overlooked by critics in favour of his more visionary subjects, are not just beautiful oils. Spencer’s virtuoso treatment of this highly accessible and enormously attractive subject demonstrates the artist’s immense feeling for, and understanding of, the way the English landscape and the traditional English garden were changing during the twentieth century, and how contemporary building development was redefining or even eradicating familiar environments. They also chart his personal vision of the garden as ‘private heaven’.

Spencer was born and spent much of his life in Cookham in Berkshire. His father, William Spencer, was a music teacher. His younger brother, Gilbert Spencer (1892–1979), was a talented painter of landscapes. From 1908 to 1912, Spencer studied at the Slade School of Art at University College, London under Henry Tonks and others. His contemporaries at the Slade included Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth, Isaac Rosenberg and David Bomberg. So profound was his attachment to the village of his birth that most days he would take the train back home in time for tea. It even became his nickname: his fellow student C.R.W. Nevinson dubbed him Cookham, a name which Spencer himself took to using for a time. After a long period of agonising whether or not to join up, in 1915 Spencer volunteered with the Royal Army Medical Corps and worked as an orderly at the Beaufort War Hospital. In 1916, the 24-year-old Spencer volunteered for service with the RAMC in Macedonia, and served with the 68th Field Ambulance unit. He subsequently volunteered to be transferred to the Berkshire Regiment. His survival of the devastation and torment that killed so many of his fellows indelibly marked Spencer’s attitude to life and death.

artwork: Stanley Spencer - "Cookham Rise", 1938 - Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Leamington Art Gallery © The Estate of Stanley Spencer. - On view at Compton Verney through October 2nd.

Such preoccupations come through time and again in his religious works. Towards the end of the war he was commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee to paint what became “Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916” (now in the Imperial War Museum). It was visibly the consequence of Spencer’s experience in the medical corps. A further major commission was to paint murals for the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere dedicated to the war dead. The altarpiece depicts the Resurrection of the Soldiers. Spencer’s work as a war artist in the Second World War included his epic depiction of shipbuilding workers and their families at Port Glasgow on the Clyde. When the war ended he again took up, as did certain other British neo-romantic artists of the time, his visionary preoccupations — in Spencer’s case with a sometimes apocalyptic tinge.

artwork: Stanley Spencer - "Wisteria at Englefield", 1954 Oil on canvas. © The Estate of Stanley Spencer 2010. All rights reserved DACS.Until the early twentieth century Compton Verney was home to the Verney or Willoughby de Broke family for almost 500 years. It has now been transformed from a derelict eighteenth-century mansion into a gallery of international standing, offering a combination of high quality attractions and facilities. The project took ten years to complete and over twenty gallery spaces have been created. Compton Verney is unique in that it is a place where art, architecture, landscape and learning fuse, to offer the visitor an experience that is completely integrated and accessible. The Georgian mansion and adjacent service buildings have been conserved and extended in a contemporary idiom, a transformation executed by two architectural practices: Stanton Williams and Leamington-based Rodney Melville & Partners. The sensitive combination of restored Grade I-listed buildings and new spaces has been realised in construction and craftsmanship of outstanding quality. Attention to detail in the use of appropriate materials, natural lighting and works of art on open display complement the collections and the site itself. The qualities of the materials chosen – handmade bricks, hand-tooled stone, glass and steel – reflect the spirit of the original buildings, while bringing a new dynamic to the architectural composition. The buildings are linked from a single point of entry and the family of service buildings have been developed to incorporate a Learning Centre and offices. The historic importance of the site meant extensive consultations with English Heritage, Stratford District Council and the local Parish Council were required, resulting in a careful restoration of the core fabric of the building, with the contemporary extension providing an added dimension and focus. Inside the mansion, restored eighteenth-century rooms on the ground floor lead to progressively more abstract and flexible spaces on the upper floors, where new galleries have been created within the existing shell of the historic building.

The galleries at Compton Verney are of an international standard enabling the hosting of loaned works of art from all over the world. Compton Verney houses six permanent collections, focusing on areas currently under-represented in British museums and galleries, including paintings and objects from Naples during the ‘Golden Age’ of Baroque Art (1600-1800), exquisitely carved sculptures by artists such as Tilman Riemenschneider seen alongside panel paintings by Lucas Cranach and Martin Schongauer in the collection of Northern European art from 1450-1650, the British Portraits collection which features portraits of well-known Tudor Royals and important figures from the Georgian period. It also includes a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds and two views of London by Venetian artist Canaletto who worked in Britain in the mid 1700s, bronzes and pottery in the Chinese collection, dating from between the Neolithic period (about 4500-2000 BC) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the UK’s largest collection of British Folk Art objects and paintings, made as everyday objects by everyday people and objects of inspiration and original textile designs by Enid Marx in the Marx-Lambert collection. Visit the museum’s website at …