Sir Stanley Spencer, R.A. (1891-1959)
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Sir Stanley Spencer, R.A. (1891-1959)

Self-portrait

Details
Sir Stanley Spencer, R.A. (1891-1959)
Self-portrait
charcoal
9 x 6.5/8 in. (22.9 x 16.9 cm.)
Executed in 1914.
Provenance
James Wood, and by descent.
Exhibited
London, Arts Council of Great Britain, Drawings by Stanley Spencer, 1955, no. 9.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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André Zlattinger
André Zlattinger

Lot Essay

This drawing is one of Spencer's first self-portraits. It was executed around 1913, along with four very similar pen and ink 'heads', one of which is now in the collection of Tate, London. In the present drawing the artist's features are densely defined with close, cross-hatched strokes and the face is strongly lit from the left. The light effects work to cast all but the edge of the left side in deep shadow. Spencer was a student at the Slade School of Fine Art in London during the years 1908-12, so had newly completed his studies when he executed Self-portrait. At this time Slade students were encouraged to study from Old Master drawings at the British Museum and from facsimiles. Self-portrait has distinctive Old Master qualities in its network of cross-hatching. Along with the four pen and ink versions, it can be seen as preparation for his oil, Self-Portrait (Tate, London) of 1914, which Spencer later noted was 'inspired by seeing a reproduction of a head of Christ by a sort of Laini', probably a reference to an Italian Renaissance painter, either Luini or Lotto. There were also more immediate sources such as Botticelli's Portrait of a Young Man (National Gallery, London) where the head and shoulders depiction shows the figure of a young man pressed close against the picture plane.

An intense gaze characterises both the present drawing and the Tate painting. Some years later, when Spencer discussed his approach to self portraiture he emphasised the importance of the eyes: "I have spoken of the great journey of the face and its world of places and how the knowledge that one will move from one moment of it to another affect the way one draws it. Now in the front view [if] one begins with an eye as I usually do and I do it with a sense of meaning to have the whole head explored" (Tate Archive, 733.9.122). The focus of the present drawing centres on the young man's penetrating eyes. The intensity of the graphite lines fade as you move away from them, dissolving to nothing at the neck and the forehead. In the painting Spencer lengthened the neck and slightly raised the chin. Both works are imbued with a powerful psychological dimension. In this regard, the works are reminiscent of the ground-breaking self-portrait from 1500 of the Northern Renaissance painter and engraver Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich. Spencer's interest in Renaissance art is suggested too by the strong contrasts of light and dark that he dramatically translates from the drawings to the painting.
The present drawing was formally in the collection of James Wood, one of Spencer's close friends. He was a Cambridge-educated man; a writer, philosopher, art connoisseur, literary critic and philologist. It was through James Wood that Spencer had first met Richard, the youngest of the Carline family, and then Hilda after the Great War. He remained a lifelong friend to both Hilda and Stanley and was 'uncle' to their daughters.

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