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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Stanley Spencer was a truly eccentric character, even by the standards of creative individuals, and we have learned a lot about his personality and the thinking behind his famous paintings by studying quotes from his life and also looking into the written correspondence that he shared with friends and family.

Quotes by Stanley Spencer, both Written and Spoken

Everything has a sort of double meaning for me there's the ordinary everyday meaning of things, and the imaginary meaning about it all, and I wanted to bring these things together, and in this first big Resurrection of mine you have a good example of this sort of thing.

Hilda and I slept alongside each other fully dressed, head to feet. Hilda was wearing a gray dress and a coat with gray braid. In Sarajevo we only got as far as Hilda taking my arm, but that I can remember - the first direct and deliberate expression of her liking for me. That is a mysterious experience. At stand-offish moments she would take my arm in a more matter-of-fact way, which made it all the more profound.

Whilst on a train to Sarajevo in 1922

I feel at home in China because I feel that Cookham is somewhere near, only just around the corner.

Speaking with Zhou Enlai as part of a delegation that visited China in 1955.

Religion (or love, I don't mind) brings happiness, and happiness brings gratitude, and gratitude brings aspiration - the wish to express it in the best possible way...And this brings passion, and passion brings and reaches to creative power. This is the way of Vision. It ends with me seeing this special, and to me crucial, meaningfulness in ordinary appearance.

What ho, Giotto!

On being commissioned to produce the Burghclere murals by John Louis and Mary Behrend

Quotes on Stanley Spencer by Academics and Fellow Artists

He could compose paintings like nobody else. He didn’t fuss about form – pattern was his thing... Stanley Spencer was the best British artist of the 20th century, bar none.

David Inshaw

In 1937 – four days after the divorce, he married Patricia Preece. The marriage was an immediate failure, not least because Stanley stayed in Cookham while Patricia and Dorothy left for the honeymoon in St Ives together. Today Patricia Preece would be called ‘high maintenance’ and Stanley paid her considerable expenses until the day he died. Together with his responsibility for his family, and his lack of any ability to manage his own finances Spencer needed to keep painting to earn money, and his agent Dudley Tooth persuaded him to paint ‘anything that would sell’. This tended to be his magnificent landscapes and portraits.

Stanley Spencer Gallery

Stanley, although slight in stature and wiry in build (his mother's attributes), was never one to be trifled with. He had an ebullient personality, a surfeit of energy, and an appreciative instinct (his father's gifts) which made him stand out in a crowd and welcomed as an engaging, if sometimes exhausting, guest. But his lively tongue, his ever-enquiring mind and innate sense of wonder were significant characteristics. It is sometimes overlooked that Stanley, even if largely self-tutored, was more widely read than many of his critics and commentators. In fact it can be argued that he was primarily a sensitive thinker whose devotion to art was the most effective means at his disposal of reflecting his metaphysical ideas, an attitude making him difficult at times to classify in the traditional pantheon of art. A CBE in the 1950s, Stanley was awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters by Southampton University towards the close of his life in 1959. Three days later he received his knighthood at Buckingham Palace.

Kenneth Pople, biographer and highly knowledgeable on this artist's career

[Stanley was a] small man with twinkling eyes and shaggy grey hair, often wearing his pyjamas under his suit if it was cold. He became a familiar sight, wandering the lanes of Cookham pushing the old pram in which he carried his canvas and easel.