The exhibition will examine the often complex relationships between Spencer and his patrons and what drove them to collect his work. Spencer was a single-minded genius, but the influence of his patrons on his painting is far greater than has hitherto been realised.
At the turn of the century, collecting art was no longer the preserve of the aristocracy and the upper classes, but Spencer’s art appealed to a broad spectrum of art lovers, fellow artists, businessmen and politicians. Many of his patrons lived in Cookham, where he lived and found artistic inspiration, and many of his paintings were influenced by his spiritual feelings for that place. His idiosyncratic and deeply personal approach gave him a wide and enduring appeal, and he was patronised by some of the most important cultural figures and taste-makers of that time.
Curator Amanda Bradley comments, ‘Behind Stanley Spencer, one of the greatest Modern British artists, were a group of individuals who enabled his very existence – both artistically and emotionally. They were not wildly rich, but they were powerful, cultivated, intellectual and artistic. Some bought on spec, others were true patrons, giving him the freedom to fulfil his artistic genius. Most fostered long-lived relationships with the artist, influencing his life and work more than has hitherto been realised. These were the patron saints.’
The historically grounded exhibition will explore the emergence of Spencer as an artistic personality, looking at those who helped him and why he – and his popularity – was a product of the zeitgeist (first half of the twentieth century) characterised by social and economic anxiety.