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Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War

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Location: Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA

Leading up to the 100th commemoration of the outbreak of the first world war, the exhibition features a series of large scale canvas panels from Stanley Spencer, one of the most original and acclaimed British painters of the 20th century.

Spencer painted scenes of his own wartime experiences, as a hospital orderly in Bristol and as a soldier, also on the Salonika front.  His recollections, painted entirely from memory, focus on the domestic rather than combative and evoke everyday experience – washing lockers, inspecting kit, sorting laundry, scrubbing floors and taking tea – in which he found spiritual resonance and sustenance.

Peppered with personal and unexpected details, they combine the realism of everyday life with dreamlike visions drawn from his imagination. In his own words, the paintings are “a symphony of rashers of bacon” with “tea-making obligato” and describe the banal daily life that, to those from the battlefield, represented a “heaven in a hell of war.” For Spencer, the menial became the miraculous; a form of reconciliation.

The exhibition also serves as a timely reminder that the wartime chores depicted in his painting are as relevant now as they were back then.

Click here for more information on Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War.

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