Biography of Stanley Spencer

Photo of 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 returns from London to Cookham to paint at his parents house. He exhibits his first major work “John Donne arriving in Heaven” at the Grafton Galleries in London.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1922: Death of his Spencer’s mother. He visits Yugoslavia on holiday with the Carline family. On his return he moves to Hampstead in London, the area where the Carline’s live.

1923: Spencer stays for a short period with Henry Lamb in Dorset where he works on some ideas for decorating a chapel. Lamb is so impressed that he introduces 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. He returns to Hampstead in October where he works in Lamb’s studio at the Vale Hotel.

1925: Birth of his Spencer’s daughter Shirin.

1925: He marries Hilda Carline at Wangford in Suffolk.

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

1930: Birth of Spencer’s second daughter Unity.

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

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

1933: He visits Switzerland.

1935: Spencer resigns 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 marries Patricia Preece though they never live together and never consummated the marriage. The honeymoon is spent in St. Ives in Cornwall. Patricia, an amateur artist herself, was to become one of his most famous models.

1938: He again exhibits at the Venice Biennale. He stays in Hampstead with friends.

1940: He is 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 where he is treated well by the workers.

1942: Spencer returns to Cookham where he stays with his cousin, although he still makes frequent trips to the Lithgow yard.

1945: Spencer moves to Cliveden View in Cookham.

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

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

1954: Spencer visits 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 moves 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 of cancer.

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.

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