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Last known self-portrait of Stanley Spencer moves to dedicated Cookham gallery

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams

adrianw@baylismedia.co.uk

The last known self-portrait drawing of Stanley Spencer has been acquired by his dedicated gallery in his home village of Cookham.

Spencer’s self-portrait, created a few months before his death in 1959, features his characteristic sharp fringe, a hairstyle he wore all his life, above a ‘grim, sloping downturn of the mouth.’

According to the Stanley Spencer Gallery, the ‘intense, unnerving image’ hints at the ‘uneasy dialectics which must have been at the forefront of a dying man’s mind.’

This work preceded a version painted in oil, now owned by Tate Britain. It was commissioned by friends of the artist, Joy Smith and her husband.

Spencer actually made two attempts at his self-portrait – Joy was not happy with the first piece of artwork.

She apparently did not find it to be a true likeness, though the gallery has said it is more likely that she found it too uncomfortable to look at.

He then created another ‘tamer’ version, the original drawing of which is now at the Tate.

Only two months after that work was completed, Spencer became very ill with cancer and was in the Canadian Hospital in Taplow.

In a letter to the Smith family dated February 16, 1959, Spencer wrote: “I know I have promised it [the self-portrait] but it may never be done all the same. When I went into hospital, I realised that I must do only the work that I wished to do.”

Shortly afterwards, he died aged 68.

Now the original drawing of Spencer’s first, arguably truer self portrait, is available at the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham.

The work was been purchased with the support of Art Fund. Jenny Waldman, director, said: “Spencer’s striking self-portrait offers a unique perspective into the final months of this important British painter.

“We are delighted to support the Stanley Spencer Gallery in this acquisition, ensuring the work goes on public display in Cookham where the artist was born and found such inspiration.”

Up until lockdown, the gallery was running an exhibition which explores ‘the bizarre love triangle’ between the artist and his two wives, Hilda Carline and Patricia Preece.

But the exhibition, Love, Art, Loss: The Wives of Stanley Spencer, will run until autumn 2021 once the gallery reopens.

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