Stanley Spencer: A Biography

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9780002153201: Stanley Spencer: A Biography

This is the first biography of Stanley Spencer to be written with the full co-operation of Spencer's family, and access to his letters and diaries. Kenneth Pople's method is to advance biographically by examining the pictures in detail. His analysis demonstrates that there never was an artist for whom life and art were so much of a piece, and that without understanding Spencer's doings and circumstances, we have no hope of understanding the paintings. He reveals for the first time, for example, the complexity of Spencer's thinking behind his divorce of his first wife and life-long inspiration, Hilda, his marriage to his lesbian second wife, and his desperate attempts therafter to establish a menage a trois. Spencer was, as is well-known, born, brought up, and for the whole of his life rooted in the tiny community of Cookham on the Thames. The sense of place which is everywhere prevalent in Spencer's paintings is examined in this biography. This work integrates biography, analysis of paintings and extracts from Spencer's own writing.

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Painter Stanley Spencer is a biographer's dream: his art is intensely personal, reflecting real people and places from his life; the controversy surrounding his private life and work guaranteed a stream of contemporary accounts about both; moreover, he was an enthusiastic chronicler of his own intentions, leaving behind vast quantities of diaries, letters, and notes. Author Kenneth Pople has utilized the wealth of information about his subject to produce Stanley Spencer: A Biography, a scrupulously researched examination of the complicated artist. Though Spencer's art had fallen out of favor in the years following his death, Stanley, the award-winning play based on his life, has renewed public interest in the man and his work, making Pople's biography timely, indeed.

Stanley Spencer is divided into 47 chapters, each one concentrating on a specific painting, through which Pople attempts to illuminate a particular period of the artist's life. He is especially strong at analyzing the work itself, but less so at breathing life into the people who surrounded Spencer: his family, wives, mistresses, and friends. Nevertheless, Kenneth Pople has brought valuable new insights to the work of Stanley Spencer, a gift for which art lovers can be grateful.

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Na´ve, clumsy and essentially different from everyone else, "Stanley" can do no real wrong. He is set apart, in Pople's account, by the force of his genius and the demands of his art. This approach might have been illuminating, since it is above all Stanley we want to hear about. But because there is no critical distance between the biographer and the artist he portrays, the personage that forms under our eyes is genetically uncertain. Is this really Stanley or a hybrid of author and hero, a "Pople-Stanley"? -- The New York Times Book Review, John B. Judis

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