As Armistice Day (November 11) approaches, paintings by Stanley Spencer, showing how the artist immersed himself in the banality of menial routine to bloc out horrific mental images of war, have arrived in London to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014.
The exhibition ‘Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War’, a series of large-scale canvas panels that normally resides in the Sandham Memorial Chapel, opens tomorrow (November 7) in the Terrace Rooms at Somerset House, London WC2 (until January 26, 2014, 020 7845 4600; www.somersethouse.org.uk).
Tea in the Hospital Ward, by Stanley Spencer
Spencer was a hospital orderly in the Beaufort Military Hospital, Bristol, and then served on the front line in Macedonia. He described the paintings as ‘a symphony of rashers of bacon’ with ‘tea-making obligato’, the dull, daily chores representing some sort of balm: ‘a heaven in a hell of war’.
The Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, on the Berkshire/ Hampshire border, was built by John Louis and Mary Behrend to house Spencer’s work-it’s been dubbed ‘Britain’s answer to the Sistine Chapel’-and was later dedicated to Mary’s brother, Henry Sandham, who died of an illness contracted while fighting in Salonica. The chapel, now owned by the National Trust, is undergoing restoration work. Next year, the exhibition will travel to Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, West Sussex (February 15-June 15, 2014).