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Celebrated Northern Collections Comes to Spencer's Cookham

(29 April 2015)

A large group of around 80 invited guests assembled in Cookham’s Stanley Spencer Gallery on the evening of Saturday 25th April for the Official Opening of the Gallery’s new Creative Genius exhibition.  Speakers were Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England, The Right Honourable Theresa May, MP, and the Gallery’s Chairman, Mr Stuart Conlin.

Sir Peter Bazelgette, Stuart Conlin and Theresa May 

Dignitaries attending included the Mayor and Lady Mayoress of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead; Gallery Trustee, Viscount Astor; the Director of Tate National, Caroline Collier; supporters of the Gallery, Sir Hugh and Lady Stevenson; John Gill, Chair of Camden Arts Centre; John Spencer, grandson of Sir Stanley Spencer; Anastasia Tennant and Hedley Swain of Arts Council England; and several private owners who generously lend their Spencer paintings to the Gallery.

Sir Peter congratulated the Gallery, which he had never previously had the opportunity to visit, on the fine nature of the Gallery’s offering and the astonishing quality of the Spencer works currently on display.  Sir Peter recounted recent moments when he had particularly realised the greatness of Sir Stanley Spencer.  One such moment was on seeing Spencer’s painting, Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Stations at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916, at the Imperial War Museum, London, which he judged the finest of the entire IWM collection of displayed WW1 art.    Another was on seeing Spencer’s great World 

Stuart Conlin and Theresa May 

War 1 paintings, the Burghclere murals, in the ‘Heaven in a Hell of War’ Exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery.  Just a few hours after officially opening the exhibition, Sir Peter tweeted his enthusiasm  for  the Creative Genius exhibition with the words:  “The Creative Genius of Stanley Spencer opens with wonderful works from UK collections.  And fab Guide”.

John Spencer and Ann Danks 

Theresa May spoke of the Stanley Spencer Gallery being an exemplar of the astonishing capabilities of teams of volunteers working together.   Recognising that the Gallery is run entirely by volunteers and employs no paid staff whatsoever, she mentioned the way it is ‘nurtured’ within Spencer’s home village, emphasised the exceptional achievement of those individuals involved, and suggested that wider recognition would help inspire others.


Stuart Conlin and Theresa May 

The Chairman acknowledged the generosity of all of the Gallery’s lenders, whether major institutes such as Aberdeen and Leeds City Art Galleries, or the Tate, or private individuals.  He also emphasised the importance to the Gallery of the processes provided by Arts Council England, which help minimise insurance premiums, allow paintings to be donated in lieu of inheritance tax, and are supportive   of the Gallery’s work in many other ways.  Partnerships such as these, he said, were crucial to the Gallery’s ability to refresh its own collection of some 70 Spencer works in the creation of exciting and ever-changing exhibitions for our visitors.

Theresa May and Viscount Aster

Following the Private View, the assembled guests joined more of the Gallery's volunteers in the nearby Holy Trinity Parish Centre for refreshments.  


The opportunity to borrow the Spencer collections of Aberdeen and Leeds for a period of more than two years has delighted the Trustees and staff of the Stanley Spencer Gallery and assures an exceptional experience for our visitors.  The Creative Genius of Stanley Spencer’ will include both the Aberdeen and Leeds collections in their entirety, together with selected hauntingly profound works from the Gallery’s own collection and others loaned from private collectors.  The resulting varying-themed exhibition will exemplify the extraordinary diversity of Spencer's output and the breadth of his creative genius.

The visitor experience will flow naturally through three main facets of Spencer’s oeuvre, recognising at the same time that nothing of Spencer’s work can be neatly pigeon-holed. Vivid fusions of the earthly, the spiritual and the beloved can be discerned across all of Spencer’s paintings, every one of his works having successive layers of ‘story to tell’ and many being touched by images or reflections of Cookham.

Firstly in order of exhibit there will an astonishing series of passionate spiritual works, to include ‘The Betrayal’, ‘Crucifixion, 1921', ‘The Last Supper’, the mighty ‘Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta’ and 'Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem'.  Then will follow several exemplars of Spencer’s meticulous observational skill in the representation of the natural world and the outdoor environment, including ‘Clipped Yews’, 'Gardens in the Pound', 'Madonna Lilies', 'Gardening', ‘Southwold’'  and ‘Greenhouse Interior’.  The latter, focusing on graceful white and magenta fuchsias, is a new, long-term loan from a private collector and has rarely been on public view.   The flow will then move back to figurative works depicting loved ones and significant scenes from Spencer’s complex personal life, reflecting  his joys and his anguish amid paintings such as 'Separating Fighting Swans’, 'Hilda, Unity and Dolls’, 'Patricia at Cockmarsh Hill’, ‘Neighbours’ and ‘At the Chest of Drawers’.

This is an exhibition to enthral everyone, from Spencer cognoscenti to those, unaware of the extraordinary world of the artist, entering the Stanley Spencer Gallery for the very first time.

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