THE EARLIEST known sketches by one of Britain’s greatest painters, Stanley Spencer, have been discovered by a Yorkshire curator ahead of a major exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield.
A sketchbook created by Spencer when he was just 15 years old in 1907 was uncovered by the gallery’s curator Eleanor Clayton during a research visit to the Spencer family home as she put together the first major UK survey of his work in 15 years to mark the 125th anniversary of his birth.
It includes detailed pictures of the flora and fauna near his home in the Berkshire village of Cookham, where he grew up and which is closely associated with his work. It also includes a short story by Spencer, who would go on to become a prolific writer.
Ms Clayton said: “I’m thrilled that the Spencer family have given us permission to include this sketchbook in our major exhibition this summer. I came across it whilst researching the show in the Spencer family home in London.
“The sketchbook, dated in Spencer’s own hand to February 10th 1907, was created when Spencer was just a teenager, making it the earliest known example of the artist’s work.”
She added: “It’s fascinating to see, even at the age of 15 and a half, Spencer’s clear love of the Cookham landscape in detailed depictions of local flora and fauna, as well as his eccentric imagination, through fantastical images of guards riding on giant snails with the caption ‘patience is a virtue’, mermaids and characters from fairy tales.”
Stanley Spencer: Of Angels and Dirt will be on display at The Hepworth Wakefield, from June 24 until October 5.
It brings together more than 70 works spanning the artist’s entire 45 year career, and will include a number of Spencer’s rarely-seen self-portraits and important works from private collections that will be publicly exhibited for the first time in decades.
The uncovered sketchbook featuring the earliest known works by Spencer will feature in the exhibition with a facsimile of the book alongside for visitors to leaf through.
Stanley Spencer’s grandson, John Spencer said: “It’s a privilege to be working with The Hepworth Wakefield to realise this major survey exhibition of Stanley’s work during the 125th anniversary year of his birth.
“The exhibition, like the forthcoming new biography on Spencer, is inspired by Stanley’s own words, and features previously unseen writing by him. It’s a wonderful opportunity to share this unseen early work and short story as we celebrate the ‘Year of Spencer’. I know my grandfather would be as proud as I am to be able to share this celebration of his life and art.”
The exhibition will also feature the monumental paintings from the Shipbuilding on the Clyde series, created during the Second World War, and the reuniting of four paintings from the 1929 Empire Marketing Board series for the first time in 36 years.
It will allow visitors to view bodies of work that he created throughout his life as a whole, such as his landscape paintings, including views of Halifax where he spent his holidays during the late 1920s.
Spencer, who died in 1959, had many high-profile collectors, including the late David Bowie, who narrated a BBC Omnibus Special about the painter in 2001, Adam Ant and Andrew Lloyd Webber.