Thursday, 23 January 2014

They don't look like war pictures, they look like heaven, a place I am becoming very familiar with. 
Stanley Spencer, 1923

It is many, many years since I visited Stanley Spencer's WW1 Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere but I can vividly remember that day when after a visit to Cookham, we suddenly took off on a Spencer trail and drove -  further than we thought - - to finish the day at the Chapel. It was so moving, every small detail of the daily lives of soldiers and hospital patients around the walls and the altarpiece a Resurrection scene as dozens of British tommies emerge from the toppled white crosses of a   battlefield cemetery.

The paintings are now on display at Somerset House, only the second time that they have ever been shown in London. (On until Sunday, admission free, and sorry about the last-minute posting but I only went yesterday. If you miss them, their next stop is Pallant House, Chichester.)

Spencer - who believed in the sublimity of the mundane - described them as a 'symphony of rashers of bacon' with 'tea-making obligato.' I love this painting of doorsteps of bread and jam on the hospital ward ... I wonder if the tea contained bromide?

Tea in the Hospital Ward


And Spencer's bath-towels are wonderfully nubbly ... click on the pictures for a clearer image.

I am glad I went, especially in this centenary year. It was moving to see an old BBC TV programme of an elderly Stanley walking into the chapel and wonder what memories he must have had.

I had buried so many people and saw so many dead bodies that I felt that death could not be the end of everything. Stanley Spencer, 1927

But it was not the same experience as visiting Burghclere where numbers are strictly limited. Somerset House was thronged with visitors and the altarpiece - which couldn't be moved - was displayed as a projection in an adjoining room.

So I was pleased to renew my acquaintance ... but will be holding on to my memories of my first visit.

On the other hand, you can't beat the view from the Somerset House terrace at twilight.


Anonymous said...

I have loved Spencer's work since I first noticed it in the early sixties. Thank you Mary, it is wonderful to see some of it again.

mary said...

I'd love to visit the chapel again, Toffeeapple.