SPENCER, Gilbert

1892 - 1979

Gilbert Spencer

Born at Cookham, Berkshire, on 4 August 1892, the eighth son and youngest of the eleven children of William Spencer, organist and music teacher, and his wife, Anna Caroline née Slack, who married at Cookham in 1873. His brother Stanley Spencer was only thirteen months older. His formal education was sketchy but he studied at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal College of Art and in 1913, Gilbert followed Stanley to the Slade School of Fine Art, London under Henry Tonks (1862-1937). The outbreak of war in August 1914 interrupted Spencer's career and he left unfinished a picture that he was working on, Sashes Meadow (later acquired by the Tate), enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and drafted out to Macedonia in the Balkans. After the war, in 1919 Spencer returned to the Slade with a scholarship for another year. In 1922 he joined the art staff at Oxford which provided him with an income until he could put on his first solo show in 1923 at the Goupil Gallery, London when he was producing some of his best pictures such as 'Crucifixion' (Tate collection) and 'Shepherds Amazed' (Leeds Art Gallery). In 1930 appointed to the staff of the Royal College of Art by Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945), and on the strength of this appointment, married in the same year (Margaret) Ursula (1901-1959), daughter of John Gerald Bradshaw, headmaster of Packwood Haugh Preparatory School for Boys, Warwickshire. In 1934 Spencer was commissioned by Balliol College, Oxford to paint murals for its new building at Holywell Manor, Oxford. On completion of the work in 1936 the Spencers left Oxford with their only daughter and made their home at Tree Cottage, Upper Basildon, near Reading, Berkshire, spending the long holidays from the Royal College of Art in a much-loved Dorset farmhouse. The college was evacuated to Ambleside, Cumbria in 1941, which gave Spencer yet another landscape to paint and, to escape from the restrictions of the time, he made a series of watercolour paintings of semi-imaginary comic episodes in the Home Guard. In 1948, with the advent of Robin Darwin (1910-1974), Spencer was peremptorily dismissed from his post at the Royal College of Art, but happily he was immediately appointed head of the department of painting and drawing at the Glasgow School of Art, where he spent two rewarding years. On 21 April 1950, elected an Associate of the Royal Academy on the strength of a small picture 'Culcrenth' and in the same year came south as head of the department of painting at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts a position he held for six years. Elected a Royal Academician on 23 April 1959, but like his brother, was a somewhat stormy member of that body, resigning over the loss of a portrait of his daughter, on 16 October 1968, only to rejoin on 25 March 1971. In 1959 both his wife and his brother died, which resulted in his writing and illustrating a book 'Stanley Spencer' (1961). In 1964 he held a retrospective exhibition at Reading of his life's work, and ten years later a further retrospective was arranged by the Fine Art Society in London. He left Berkshire in 1970 for a farm cottage at Walsham-le-Willows, Suffolk and though he could no longer paint, he wrote his 'Memoirs of a Painter' (1974) and entered ardently into family and village life. He died in a nursing home at Lynderswood Court, Black Notley, Braintree, Essex, on 14 January 1979. His work is also represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Imperial War Museum, London; Manchester City Galleries; the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield; and Belfast City Art Gallery.




Works by This Painter