Friday, May 23, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ (Sir) Stanley Spencer

Several blogs and websites have done a splendid job of educating readers on the life and times of "eccentric" English artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), and of displaying images of his paintings. I will link to the best of these websites and blogs at the foot of this post, and satisfy myself with a minimum of illustrations, adding some information gleaned from the linked biographical material. What nobody else seems to have done, so far, is to consider the natal chart of Sir Stanley and relate it to what's known of his personality. I'll take a stab at that later in the post!

Stanley Spencer was born on 30 June 1891 in the English rural village of Cookham, Berkshire, some 30 miles west of London. His father, a London-trained music teacher and "born educator" presided over his family of nine children which would eventually produce "a knight, two professors, a concert violinist, a professional stage conjurer, the Director of the National Building Institute in London, an Oxford graduate (killed in the Great War) and the wife of a Cambridge don", as well as two professional artists, Stanley's younger brother Gilbert became a successful artist too.

On the outbreak of World War I in 1914 Stanley enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was posted to Beaufort Hospital near Bristol in 1915, then to Macedonia in 1916, and later applied to transfer to the Infantry and went to the Front Line in 1917. He was deeply affected by war experiences. On return to his beloved Cookham he said he had lost that 'early morning feeling' which had so awakened his spirit. As an official war artist he had painted Travoys with Wounded Soldiers (now in London's Imperial War Museum) and the murals depicting his life in the army in the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere.

(Click on an image to see bigger version)

 Travoys with Wounded Soldiers Arriving at the Sressing Station

 The Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere in Hampshire,   decorated with  series of large-scale paintings by Stanley Spencer,    inspired by his experiences as a First World War medical orderly and soldier in Macedonia,.  The main painting,  The Resurrection of the Soldiers (above), shows soldiers climbing out of their graves bearing white crosses and embracing their dead comrades. One man kneels at Christ’s side, his head in his lap, one man caresses a turtle, while another clasps a dove to his chest. Spencer wrote of the painting:
During the war, I felt the only way to end the ghastly experience would be if everyone suddenly decided to indulge in every degree or form of sexual love, carnal love, bestiality, anything you like to call it. These are the joyful inheritances of mankind.
(See here)

Stanley married twice, first to a fellow artist, Hilda, in 1925. They had two daughters.


In 1932 he began a dalliance with Patricia Preece, local artist who exhibited the work of her lesbian lover, Dorothy Hepworth, under her own name. She, apparently, had beguiled Spencer. She became a model for several of his paintings. In 1937 he divorced Hilda and a week later he and Preece were married. Their relationship turned out to be a strange one. They never lived together; the marriage was never consummated and after Spencer had signed his home and financial affairs over to his new wife, Preece secured the end of their relationship. In 1938 she evicted him from the house.
 Patricia Preece

It is said that Hilda remained "the love of his life".

His paintings veered between "comical versions of events and intense realism." He often combined biblical themes with topical events, a tendency not always appreciated by critics and viewers of his work.  In his depiction of “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem,” (below) Cookham village folk run down their garden paths, trampling their cabbage plants, to join the procession. And when he painted Jesus’ last meal (also below) in 1920, Spencer set the table in the cramped back room of a local malthouse.
Critics of Spencer’s religious paintings claim that the artist demeaned religious events by turning them into unattractive, everyday events.  Spencer responded in 1947: “I want to show the relations of religious life in the secular, how that all is one religious life".

 Christ's Entry into Jerusalem (1920)

 Resurrection in Cookham (Click on image for larger version)

The Last Supper (1920).
Sexually, he is described as "something of a late sexual developer", but once into his stride he began shocking viewers of his work with explicit nude portraits of his two wives, no doubt fuelled by marital and emotional crisis. Sexual frustrations were translated through his paintings depicting folds of naked female flesh. Sir Alfred Munnings even initiated a police prosecution against the artist for alleged obscenity, resulting in Stanley hiding his Double Nude Portrait, a frank painting of the artist and his second wife, under his bed, not to be exhibited again until after his death.

 Double Nude (1937)

After Stanley's relationship with Preece came to an end, he made frequent visits to his first wife, Hilda, that were to continue throughout Hilda’s mental breakdown and up until her death from cancer in 1950.

 Hilda and I at Pond Street (1954). Painted after Hilda's death. The baptismal dress in the foreground is thought to be a metaphorical reference, the two small figures represent angels.

One of 8 panels he was commissioned to paint as a record of WW II Shipbuilders on the River Clyde, Scotland. He reportedly sketched preparation on long lengths of toilet paper.

Sir Stanley Spencer died from cancer on 14 December 1959.

 Self Portrait (1939)


The chart is set for 12 noon as time of birth isn't known. Moon position will be a bit adrift, and ascendant will not be accurate as shown.

Two stelliums (clusters of planets), one in Gemini and one in adjoining sign, Cancer; two oppositions: Saturn-Jupiter, and Moon (probably)-Uranus.

Personality-wise Stanley has been described thus by authors of the links supplied below:
....a most sociable character with many friends and supporters who has been called eccentric and Patricia (second wife) in her diaries even called him 'mad'. As a character he was certainly different and unusual. The small man with twinkling eyes and shaggy grey hair (often wearing his pyjamas under his suit if it was cold) became a familiar sight wandering the lanes of Cookham pushing the old pram in which he carried his canvas and easel.

....small and wiry and had a very energetic yet engaging personality. He could also be quite exhausting and would talk for hours with his mind flying free. He would vocalise or write his thoughts on every aspect of his work and left behind a vast archive of letters, notes and jottings.

Although slight in stature and wiry in build (his mother's attributes), was never one to be trifled with. He had an ebullient personality, a surfeit of energy, and an appreciative instinct (his father's gifts) which made him stand out in a crowd and welcomed as an engaging, if sometimes exhausting, guest. But his lively tongue, his ever-enquiring mind and innate sense of wonder were significant characteristics. It is sometimes overlooked that Stanley, even if largely self-tutored, was more widely read than many of his critics and commentators. In fact it can be argued that he was primarily a sensitive thinker whose devotion to art was the most effective means at his disposal of reflecting his metaphysical ideas, an attitude making him difficult at times to classify in the traditional pantheon of art.

Those three snips, from articles linked, shout, and very clearly, "Gemini!" "Sensitive thinker" brings in a trait, acute sensitivity, and love of home ground (his beloved Cookham) from his Cancer stellium. His natal Sun is in semi-sextile aspect (30*) to a Venus/Neptune/Pluto conjunction (art, creativity, intensity): the semi-sextile smooths what might have been an otherwise awkward combination between the quiet sensitivity of Cancer and Gemini's social butterfly tendency to suffer from verbal diarrhea.

His work equally defied convention. During his commission for the World War II Shipbuilding On The Clyde series of paintings he reportedly sketched on long lengths of toilet paper.

The originality of his art was the product of an innate nervous sensitivity far more acute than most of us are blessed with. We have to push ourselves hard to keep pace with it at times. One can see glimpses of an embryonic split-personality in the dichotomy between his down-to-earth and up-in-heaven, plus a hint of autism in his retentive powers of detailed observation, in his caution about embracing new sensation, in his overriding search for the reassurance of his Cookham-feelings and in the eternal attributions he gave his imagery, with perhaps an added touch of the manic-depressive - the 'manic' in his handling of the overload of creative ideas to which he was subject, and the 'depressive' in his dread of the frustration an interruption to them would cause him (one of the stated functions of close friends at times was to keep Stanley on an even keel by offering diversions from the excesses of his enthusiams, a kindness not always welcomed when he was in rampant creative mode.)

The eccentricities of Stanley Spencer - where are they in the chart? Uranus is the usual culprit. There's a good chance that natal Moon in opposition to Uranus is involved, or possibly Uranus was in first house or on his ascendant degree, or at midheaven.

The mention of "split-personality" draws one to consider those two oppositions, as well as the two stelliums in wildly different but adjoining signs, with a Neptune/Pluto conjunction in their midst.

His genius is of a peculiarly English type – provincial in the best sense, rooted in a particular place, queerly innocent, mystical and yet in love with what's before his eyes, over-sexed and yet somehow chaste, art-religious. Like Blake and D H Lawrence, he was an artist who new-created all he saw.
....that was the last paragraph of a Guardian piece by Howard Jacobson

BBC Arts Highlights
IKPople Blue Yonder/vision (+scroll to "Home" at foot of that page)

To see more of Stanley Spencer's work, all in one place, Wiki has a small sideshow of many of his paintings, any image can be enlarged by clicking on it. (SEE HERE, then scroll to foot of page ).

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


mike said...

His Mercury trine Uranus could also induce eccentricity and spilling-of-the-brain syndrome. The Venus-Jupiter-Saturn T-square, mixed with the Mars-Jupiter trine, could indicate ambiguity with male-female sexual expression...not quite getting the hang of it all and probably misreading outsider looking in.

Hadn't heard of him prior to your post. He has several styles of painting, which is a bit unusual...his religious pieces are very distinctive with the abstractions of people. His self-portrait (the one in your post) is my favorite...colorful, yet "down"...I like the overly accentuated shadows, particularly of his eyeglasses, giving a frown to his face, yet his lips are not frowning.

BTW - Hilda is Richer Carline's sister and Spencer was a major influence in Richer Carline's work:

LB said...

Talented artist. But what a sad life, particularly his relationships with Hilda and Preece - wow.:(

Did you happen to notice, Twilight, how Spencer's Moon-Uranus opposition lines up with the current transiting South and North Nodes? mike would probably call this a "quinky dink"!

There was an interesting article in the latest Mountain Astrologer about Moon-Uranus aspects. I have a *wide* opposition myself, in the 5th and 12th, so I can kind of relate.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for the additional astro-pointers. The Uranus/Mercury trine is another "cuspy" element, straddling 2 signs. He's a cuspy person I think, all round. He made it work for himself, encountering painful experiences along the way.

Yes, he was versatile in his styles of painting (typically Gemini)- his landscapes show a quite different side - the Cancerian bit I guess.
His Religious-based themes were before their time, an odd mix, just like their creator.

Yes, Hilda nee Carline was a painter herself and came from a talented family too, as did Spencer.

Twilight said...

LB ~ He was conflicted emotionally, that's clear - possibly easily led, which resulted in the Preece debacle.

I hadn't noticed that quinky-dink!

I wish his time of birth were known, to establish exact Moon degree and an ascending degree.