Curator’s Column: Counterpoint -Stanley Spencer & his Contemporaries Stanley Spencer Gallery

This exhibition is about the coming of age of a stellar group of artists through whose works we encounter some of the most seismic events of the past century: two world wars and huge social, economic and political change. Using the Gallery’s own works as a backbone for the exhibition, we have hung them alongside some spectacular loans from the Ingram Collection of Modern British Art.

The exhibition is divided into seven thematic strands, the first of which is ‘The Slade’, where many of the artists in the exhibition trained. It was here that their tutor, the renowned draughtsman, Henry Tonks, described them as a ‘crisis of brilliance’, such was their talent. The other themes – the Great War, Religion, Landscape, The Artist’s Muse, The Long Weekend and World War II – will enable us to look at how artists experienced and portrayed their shared histories.

A particular highlight is Mark Gertler’s The Doll, which is a striking still-life painted just after he left the Slade; in it an everyday object is imbued with an almost sacred reverence. In Brockley in April, David Jones brings a spirituality to the place of his birth, just as Stanley Spencer did with Cookham. In Spencer’s painting of the Last Supper, the scene takes place in Cookham malthouse; and in the monumental Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta (unfinished on Spencer’s death), Christ is shown on a boat, in a wicker chair, preaching to the inhabitants of Cookham

A mystical painting by Glynn Philpot is another highlight – his Ascending Angel, looming above what is probably an artist’s garret shows a divine event in an everyday setting. Elevating the commonplace was something of a specialism for Spencer. In Sarah Tubb and the Heavenly Visitors, ‘Granny Tubb’ is shown on her knees in Cookham High Street convinced that the world had ended. She is accompanied not only by celestial beings, but also by the less-than-celestial grocer’s son.

Spencer is famous for his singular vision, but Counterpoint sets out to demonstrate that he was part of a zeitgeist which spawned some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.

Amanda Bradley, Exhibition Curator

For more information see:

Image credit: Mark Gertler, The Doll, 1914, oil on canvas, 762 x 508mm. Courtesy of The Ingram Collection of Modern British Art