Cemeteries and graveyards, full of love, betrayal, tragic deaths, murder, and suicide. What will you find?

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Sir Stanley Spencer of Cookham

Taphophilia is a passion for and enjoyment of cemeteries. The singular term is a taphophile.

Gravestone of Sir Stanley Spencer CBE RA, Holy Trinity Churchyard, Cookham Berkshire.

"To The Memory Of
Stanley Spencer
1891 - 1959
And his wife
Buried in Cookham Cemetery 1950

Everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God for God is love - 1 John 4:7"

Sir Stanley Spencer was born at Fernlea, High Street, Cookham on 30th June 1891 to William, a music teacher and Anne Caroline Spencer nee Slack.  On the that day a crow fell down the chimney and flapped about the living room until released. The family thought it a good omen and named Stanley after Stanley Spencer, a prominent balloonist of the era.


Much of Stanley's early education was at the village school run by his sisters, he eventually attended Maidenhead Technical School where his artistic training began, before enrolling at Slade School of Fine Art at University College, London.  Here he won the Composition Prize for ‘The Nativity’, and oil on canvas painted in 1912

The Nativity - 1912

In 1915 Stanley volunteered to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps where he served as a orderly at The Beaufort War Hospital.  In 1916 he volunteered to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Macedonia where he served with the 68th Field Ambulance Unit.  He later requested to be transferred to the Berkshire Regiment.  Stanley's experience of the horrors of war were to forever mark his attitude towards life and death, an influence that can be seen in many of his religious paintings.

Towards the end of the Great War Stanley was commissioned by the the War Artists Advisory Committee to paint visions of war from Macedonia.  Stanley painted what is now referred to as 'Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol.'  The painting is kept at the Imperial War Museum.

Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol

In 1925 Stanley married Hilda Carline, who at that time was a student of Slade School of Fine Art.  They had two daughters together, Shirin and Unity. 

Hilda, Unity and Dolls - 1937

However Hilda and Stanley were to divorce in 1937 when the girls were 7 and 11 due to Stanley's obsession with another woman, Patricia Preece.  A week after his divorce Stanley had married Patricia, but it was not to be a happy marriage.  Patricia was a con artist and a lesbian, whose interest in Stanley only extended as far as his money.  She somehow managed to persuade Stanley to sign over his house to her.  Patricia continued to live with her lover Dorothy Hepworth and the marriage was never consummated, yet when her 'relationship' with Stanley fell apart she refused to grant him a divorce. 

Hepworth, Preece, Spencer and guest
at Stanley's wedding to Patricia Preece in 1937

Stanley was to forever regret his decision to leave Hilda and his daughters for Patricia.  When Hilda's mental health began to fail, Stanley would visit her, but the damage to their relationship was already done.  In 1950 Hilda died of cancer.  Stanley continued to write love letters to Hilda long after her death.  In 1945 Stanley had moved to Cliveden View House in Cookham Rise, a house built by his builder grandfather Julius Spencer and previously lived in by his sister Annie.

Stanley was to become a familiar sight in Cookham, pushing a battered black pram that contained his canvas and easel.
Sir Stanley Spencer with his pram in Cookham Lane - 1958

In 1959 Stanley was knighted, later that year on 14th December he died of cancer at The Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital in Taplow Buckinghamshire.

1954 Portrait of Sir Stanley Spencer by Ida Kar
© National Portrait Gallery, London

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1 comment:

  1. Wow! What an interesting and wonderful post! The first self portrait drew me in and wouldn't let go for quite a long time. What a man and what a life! Thank you for sharing about him.
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