Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War at Somerset House

Stanley Spencer’s poignant memories of war are leaving their permanent home at the National Trust’s Sandham Memorial Chapel to be exhibited at Somerset House. Leading up to the 100th commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War, the exhibition will feature a series of large scale canvas panels from one of the most original and acclaimed British painters of the 20th century.

Spencer painted scenes of his own wartime experiences, as a hospital orderly in Bristol and as a soldier, also on the Salonika front. His recollections, painted entirely from memory, focus on the domestic rather than combative and evoke everyday experience – washing lockers, inspecting kit, sorting laundry, scrubbing floors and taking tea – in which he found spiritual resonance and sustenance. Peppered with personal and unexpected details, they combine the realism of everyday life with dreamlike visions drawn from his imagination. In his own words, the paintings are ‘a symphony of rashers of bacon’ with ‘tea-making obligato’ and describe the banal daily life that, to those from the battlefield, represented a ‘heaven in a hell of war.’ For Spencer, the menial became the miraculous; a form of reconciliation.

Co-curated by Amanda Bradley and David Taylor from the National Trust, and designed by acclaimed exhibition designers Casson Mann, the exhibition will also include preparatory sketches by Spencer, paintings by Spencer’s friend and contemporary, Henry Lamb, along with material on the patrons of the chapel, John Louis and Mary Behrend. Find out more over at Somerset House.


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