Biography of Stanley Spencer

Stanley Spencer

Sir Stanley Spencer was a twentieth century painter and war artist.

When and Where was he Born?

30th June 1891, Cookham-on-Thames, Berkshire, England.

Family Background:

Stanley Spencer was the eighth surviving child of William Spencer, a piano teacher and his wife Annie.


At a school run by his sisters. Maidenhead Technical College. Slade School of Art, London. (Amongst his contemporaries was Paul Nash).

Timeline of Sir Stanley Spencer:

1912: Spencer returned from London to Cookham to paint at his parents house. Exhibited his first major work “John Donne arriving in Heaven” at the Grafton Galleries in London.

1915: During the First World War he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps. and worked at the Beaufort Hospital in Bristol.

1916: He was posted to Macedonia serving with field ambulances.

1917: Spencer volunteered for the 7th Battalion, The Royal Berkshires infantry regiment.

1918: His older brother Sydney was killed in France in the last few months of the war.

1919: After the war he returned to Cookham where he took up work on “Swan Upping which he had left unfinished before he went to war.

1920: Spencer moved to live with the Slessor family in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire and then with Henry Lamb in Dorset.

1921: He stayed with the artist Muirhead Bones in Hampshire where he was asked to design a war memorial. This project was however never built.

1922: Death of his Spencer’s mother. Visited Yugoslavia on holiday with the Carline family. On his return he moved to Hampstead in London, the area where the Carline’s lived.

1923: Spencer stayed for a short period with Henry Lamb in Dorset where he worked on some ideas for decorating a chapel. Lamb was so impressed that he introduced him to the Behrand family who had decided to build a memorial chapel to Mary’s brother who had been killed in the First World War. Returned to Hampstead in October where he worked in Lamb’s studio at the Vale Hotel.

1925: Birth of his Spencer’s daughter Shirin.

1925: He marries Hilda Carline at Wangford, Suffolk.

1927: His painting “The Resurrection, Cookham” was exhibited at the Goupil Gallery, London. It was purchased by the Duveen Painting Fund and presented to the Tate gallery. The Spencer’s then moved to Burghclere where he could concentrate on his paintings for the Sandham Memorial Chapel.

1930: Birth of Spencer’s second daughter Unity.

1931: The family moved back to Cookham to a substantial house called “Lindworth”.

1932: Spencer was elected an Associate Member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He was also chosen to exhibit at the Biennale in Venice. He then had an idea he would like to create his own building “The Church House” and all his non-commissioned work was to be for this major project, which unfortunately never got built.

1933: He visited Switzerland.

1935: Spencer resigned from the Royal Academy after the rejection of his paintings “St. Francis and the Birds” and “The Dustman or the Lovers” by the hanging Committee.

St Francis and the Birds. 1935. Tate Gallery
St Francis and the Birds. 1935. Tate Gallery

1937: After divorcing Hilda Carline he married Patricia Preece though they never lived together and never consummated the marriage. The honeymoon was spent in St. Ives in Cornwall. Patricia an amateur artist herself was to become one of his most famous models.

1938: Again exhibited at the Venice Biennale. Stayed in Hampstead with friends.

1940: He was commissioned during the Second World War by the War Artist’s Advisory Committee to paint scenes at the Lithgow shipbuilding yard in Port Glasgow, Scotland.

1942: Spencer returned to Cookham where he stayed with his cousin, although he still made frequent trips to the Lithgow yard.

1945: Spencer moved to Cliveden View in Cookham.

1947: The Sandham Memorial Chapel was presented to the National Trust.

1950: He was awarded the C.B.E. Rejoined the Royal Academy and elected as a full Member. Death of Hilda after a long period of illness.

1954: Spencer visited China as part of a cultural delegation.

1955: A major retrospective exhibition of Spencer’s work is held at the Tate Gallery in London.

1958: He is Knighted by the Queen. He is elected an Associate of the Royal College of Art.

1959: Spencer moved back into the house of his childhood now renamed “Fernley”.

When and Where did he Die?

14th December 1959, Canadian War Memorial Hospital Cliveden, Berkshire, England.

Age at Death:



1925 to Hilda Carline at Wangford, Suffolk. (divorced 1937). 1937 to Patricia Preece, although they never lived together or consummated the marriage.

Site of Grave:

Village Churchyard, Cookham-on-Thames, Berkshire, England.

Places of Interest:


Stanley Spencer Gallery, The Kings Hall, High Street, Cookham on Thames, Berkshire, SL6 9SJ.

Discover one of the greatest British painters of the twentieth century in his beloved home village of Cookham where he once lived and worked.

The Stanley Spencer Gallery is devoted to the work of one of Britain’s greatest twentieth century painters, Sir Stanley Spencer RA (1891 – 1959).  The Gallery was named by ArtFund in 2014 as being one the five most ‘unmissable’ small museums in the UK and has also been awarded a coveted Michelin Star in the Michelin Great Britain Green Guide.

Whatever the current exhibition (there are usually two per year), the visitor can be assured of discovering more about Spencer’s extraordinary artistic skill, the vehicle for communicating his unique and challenging view of human existence.

Spencer’s paintings combine the realism of everyday life with dreamlike visions.  Throughout his work the earthly, the spiritual and the power of love are drawn together in mystical transformations.  The whole of any Spencer painting possesses multiple layers of meaning, executed with superb draughtsmanship.

The Stanley Spencer Gallery provides the largest collection of Sir Stanley Spencer’s works on display anywhere in the world.  The Gallery forms a destination for numerous group outings and is also visited by lovers of all genres of art as well as families, tourists and Spencer aficionados.


Museum and Art Gallery.


Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.


Art Gallery, Middlesbrough.


City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth.


Art Gallery, Cheltenham.


Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere. (National Trust). See here for more information.
City Art Gallery, Southampton.


Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester.


Tate Britain.
Imperial War Museum.


City Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham.


Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow.
Hunterian Museum, Glasgow.
McManus Galleries, Dundee.
Aberdeen Art Gallery.


Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle.


Ferens Art Gallery, Hull.
University of Hull.
Temple Newsam House, Leeds.
Cartwright Hall, Bradford.
Graves art Gallery, Sheffield.
Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield.


Art Gallery and Museum, Leamington Spa.


Museum and Art Gallery, Newport.
Glyn Vivien Art Gallery, Swansea.


Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry.


Ulster Museum, Belfast.