Born and lived most of his life in Cookham, near Maidenhead
June 30th 1891
December 14th 1959
Sir Stanley Spencer was born in a house on Cookham High Street, the eighth surviving child of Annie and William Spencer. His father was a music teacher and his childhood was full of music, literature and conversation.
From 1908 to 1912 Spencer attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London, the country’s premier art school. He picked up the nickname ‘Cookham’ because of his habit of commuting back to the village every day rather than staying in London. His contemporaries at the Slade included Dora Carrington.
Before the Great War, Cookham was still a rural idyll. On the High Street were a butchers, bakers, chemists and forge. Ovey’s Farm was opposite his childhood home and young Stan would watch the cows come into the yard from his bedroom window. The brewhouse at the end of the street formed the backdrop for several paintings. Gilbert wrote of ‘the excitement of the Regatta and fair on Cookham Moor ... where the social barriers were down and the mix up was attractive and complete.’
During WWI Spencer enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps and worked as an official war artist. After the war he married Hilda Carline and they lived in London for some years before moving back to Cookham in 1932.
Spencer was greatly attached to Cookham, and was also deeply religious. His work The Resurrection, Cookham depicts biblical scenes set in the village with villagers as biblical characters. He also painted many scenes of the landscapes around Cookham and local village life. In 1937 he divorced his wife and married Patricia Preece. The costs run up by his extravagant new wife, plus ongoing support for his family, meant that Spencer had to keep producing his magnificent and popular landscapes and portraits.
As a character he was certainly different and unusual. In later years the small man with twinkling eyes and shaggy grey hair (often wearing his pyjamas under his suit if it was cold) became a familiar sight wandering the lanes of Cookham pushing the old pram in which he carried his canvas and easel. He was also undoubtedly one of our greatest British artists. He died in 1959, having been knighted and elected to the Royal Academy.
More details of Spencer’s life and paintings can be found on www.stanleyspencer.org.uk
Biography: Stanley Spencer by Duncan Robinson. Published by Phaidon Press Ltd in 1993.
The Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham contains over 100 of his paintings and is open year round.
You can do an hour-long walk from the centre of Cookham down to the Thames and back, past the location of a number of Spencer’s paintings. See Cookham Walk on www.stanleyspencer.org.uk