Sunday, 26 April 2009

Morning service in remembrance of Stanley Spencer

The Resurrection, Cookham, 1924-7, oil on canvas, by Stanley Spencer, Tate Gallery
It's difficult to get a real impression of the power, whimsy, humour and beauty of this painting in this small reproduction. I'm always sad if it is on loan when I go to the Tate Gallery in London. Like almost all of Spencer's work it has a wonderful naive magic realism and is completely rooted in his native village of Cookham.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Spencer's death and you can listen again to the service from Holy Trinity Church (which is depicted in the painting). Spencer's religious paintings often depict Christ incarnate in Cookham, carrying his cross through the village street, preaching the beatitudes next to the Thames.
I hope one day to visit Sandham Memorial Chapel and see the extraordinary murals of the resurrection Spencer painted there. They show the troops from the first world war rising up out of the trenches from underneath rows and rows of white crosses. I do not understand resurrection or rising in glory in such graphic physical terms, yet Spencer's earthy contextual pictures of the resurrection speak to me, making me smile with understanding of I am not sure quite what.