Spencer’s War: The Art of Shipbuilding on the Clyde
The latest exhibition at The Stanley Spencer Gallery features Spencer’s Shipbuilding on the Clyde series, one of the most remarkable artistic records of the Second World War.
The paintings are on loan from the Worthing Art Gallery (The Furnace Man, with its preparatory portrait drawing), and the Imperial War Museum (5 long panels: Riveters, Bending the Keel Plate, Riggers, Plumbers & Furnaces), plus 34 drawings for the series. Spencer accepted an official commission from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC) to go to Port Glasgow, Scotland, to depict work in a shipyard. The vessels under construction were merchant ships for importing food and raw materials, many of which were lost on Atlantic convoys.
Shipbuilding on the Clyde: Plumbers (Detail), 1944-45 by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) Oil on canvas, 50.8 x 493 cm; upper panel 30.4 x 88.9 cm © copyright Imperial War Museum
The shipyard caught Spencer’s imagination and he produced a series of canvases depicting the major trades involved in ship construction in considerable detail. This type of heavy industry no longer exists on Clydeside. As in his murals in the Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere, which commemorate the 1stWorld War, he concentrates on everyday activity rather than grand events. The distinctive long, narrow horizontal format of the pictures forces the figures to adopt complex and unusual poses, reflecting the cramped conditions under which they worked. The inventive compositions are suffused with heat, noise and the dramatic glare of light on metal.
Shipbuilding on the Clyde: Furnaces, 1946 by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) Oil on canvas 156.2 x 113.6 cm © copyright Imperial War Museum
Spencer was fascinated by the abstract shapes of tools and metal, which he uses to form characteristic repetitive patterns. He drew continuously, sometimes on rolls of toilet paper, and from these sketches worked up his complex and eminently successful compositions, with which the WAAC was delighted. The pictures were widely exhibited to boost national morale. Recently cleaned, they will form a spectacular exhibition in the Stanley Spencer Gallery.
Spencer achieved a rare feat by producing some of the most original masterpieces by any artist in response to the two great conflicts of the twentieth century. He was an Official War Artist in both World Wars, producing Travoys in 1919 and Shipbuilding on the Clyde, 1940-6. His great cycle of wall paintings in the Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere (now National Trust) commemorate his experiences in the RAMC and infantry during the First World War.
The exhibition is accompanied by a full colour 32 page catalogue written by Carolyn Leder which is available from the Gallery at £4.00. Carolyn is available for interview.
Until 15th January 2012
Gallery Opening hours: April 1st – October 31st
Daily 10.30am – 5.30pm
November 3rd – January 15th Thursdays to Sundays 11.00 am – 4.30 pm (except Christmas Day)
Stanley Spencer Gallery