Here's a short review I wrote for the local rag about the above lecture at Bristol University.
The first time 17 year old Stanley Spencer made what would become a daily commute between his home in Cookham and the Slade School of Fine Art, his father, William, accompanied him to see him safely across Euston Road.
Within a few years, Spencer turned his half-finished painting, Swan Upping at Cookham, to the wall and enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving first as an orderly in Beaufort Hospital, Stapleton (‘that vile place’) and later with the 68th Field Ambulance Unit on the front line in Macedonia.
In the latest lecture in the series entitled The Artist at War, put on by the Bristol Festival of Ideas to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, Paul Gough sought to explore the visual language of conflict by contrasting Spencer’s work with that of his friend and peer, the landscape artist Paul Nash, who enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles and served on the Western Front before becoming an official war artist in November 1917.
Both artists were profoundly affected by their experience of battle. ‘I am no longer an artist interested and curious,’ wrote Nash to his wife, ‘I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls.’
We Are Making A New World : Paul Nash, 1918
Nash went on to produce some of the most iconic and searing images of the battlefields of Belgium and France and, in Gough’s words, ‘introduced a new language of devastation to the genre of landscape.’
Having returned to Cookham at the end of 1918, Spencer managed to finish Swan Upping but struggled to assimilate his recent past into his work, often stating ‘It is not proper or sensible to expect to paint after such experience.’ It was only when he received the commission from his patrons, the Behrens, for a memorial chapel at Burghlere to Mary Behren’s brother, Lieutenant Henry William Sandham, that he had the opportunity to undertake his astonishing and moving ‘re-membering’ of war, based on his time in Bristol and Macedonia.