Stanley Spencer 1939-1941

Catalogue number
  • ART/WA2/03/061/1
Art and Popular Design
Part of
  • whole: 113pp

Physical description

Bound volume

Content description

Dudley Tooth (possibly at Spencer's prompting) wrote to Dickey suggesting that Spencer might be employed by the Committee. Spencer met with Dickey in March. Dickey's note of the meeting (6) reports Spencer's fear that his art would not be appreciated – expressing his disappointment at the responses to his designs for the Empire Marketing Board and the SS Queen Mary. Dickey reassured him that "he need have no misgivings... what we wanted were Stanley Spencers". Two subjects were proposed: shipbuilding, and an aerodrome. For the first, it was planned that Spencer should travel to the Cammell Laird shipyard at Birkenhead, but this trip was delayed, by which time Gleadowe had decided that Leith would be more suitable. Spencer went to Port Glasgow to Lithgow's shipyard, in May 1940. Spencer declared his first visit a "most interesting time... I hardly know how to tear myself away" and reported that he already had a scheme of works (18). Consequently the Committee extended the commission to a series of up to pictures showing different aspects of shipbuilding, for £300. In many of his letters Spencer describes in detail his schemes for the pictures- particularly the initial outline (21-26). The first two works in the series were to be ‘Burners' and ‘Caulkers', but at (30) he sets out a diagram of 11 canvases, with sizes and details. He also sent detailed progress reports. The file includes a letter from Spencer's friend Daphne Charlton, with whom he was staying, asking that he should not be asked to come to London for fear of his "physical and mental welfare" (38). Meanwhile, Spencer expressed his interest in other subjects such as London ARP (41) By the end of August, ‘Burners' and ‘Caulkers' were finished [note: 'Caulkers' was not sent and not acquired by the Committee]. 'Burners' was sent (in three parts) to the Committee, who were very pleased with it. Ivor Lambe wrote a "gossip" press release about it (43). Gleadowe even felt that these sections alone were to the value of £300 without further pictures (44), but it was agreed with Spencer that, for that sum, he would carry out ‘Welders' to balance ‘Burners' in the scheme – detailed at (46-8). This picture was delivered in March 1941 and a further £300 voted by the Committee to allow him to continue the series. Spencer made further trips to Glasgow, often staying with employees of the shipyard. In one letter he describes his difficulties in reaching the bells of the hotels due to his short stature (88b). In May 1941 he saw the pictures all hanging together for the first time (presumably at the National Gallery): "it was lovely to see them so able to stretch themselves out" (93). Further correspondence discusses materials at length, and outstanding expenses. Spencer was well looked after by Dickey, who managed to obtain for him almost all the expenses he asked for – and acceded to Spencer's refusal to fill in any forms (78). The file ends with Spencer regarding "'sperimenting with the shoe plate idea" and the purchase of fourteen preliminary drawings for ‘Riveters'.

Associated people and organisations
Associated subjects