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


Sir Stanley Spencer, R.A. (1891-1959)
oil on canvas
36 x 24 in. (91.5 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1940.
Zoltan Lewinter-Frankl, from whom acquired directly from the artist, and by descent.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, Stanley Spencer: Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings, London, Leicester Galleries, 1942, p. 7, no. 19.
Exhibition catalogue, Stanley Spencer R.A., London, Royal Academy, 1980, pp. 182, 184, 191, no. 217, illustrated.
K. Bell, Stanley Spencer: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, London, 1992, pp. 165, 476, no. 328a, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Canvasing the Clyde Stanley Spencer and the Shipyards, Glasgow, Kelvingrove, Art Gallery and Museum, 1994, n.p., exhibition not numbered, pl. 13.
London, Leicester Galleries, Stanley Spencer: Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings, November 1942, no. 19.
London, Royal Academy, Stanley Spencer R.A., September - December 1980, no. 217.
Glasgow, Kelvingrove, Art Gallery and Museum, Canvasing the Clyde Stanley Spencer and the Shipyards, April - August 1994, exhibition not numbered.
London, Tate Gallery, Stanley Spencer, March - June 2001, exhibition not numbered: this exhibition travelled to Toronto, Ontario Art Gallery, September - December 2001; and Belfast, Ulster Museum, January - April 2002 (exhibited at Belfast only).

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Lot Essay

‘The yards and atmosphere of Port Glasgow delighted him, and he found there the close-knit community atmosphere which had been the central ‘homely’ element of his love for Cookham’ – Keith Bell

In 1940, Sir Stanley Spencer was commissioned by the War Artist’s Advisory Committee to illustrate the valuable contribution made by the British shipbuilding industry and its workers to the war effort. He received the commission from the WAAC under Sir Kenneth Clark, after Dudley Tooth had recommended him and written to Clark on his behalf. Tooth was in the army, and the war had caused a serious slump in the art market. As an official war artist, Spencer was sent by the Ministry of Information to the Kingston shipyard at Port Glasgow on the river Clyde, owned by Sir James Lithgow.

Spencer initially offered to paint a large Crucifixion containing imaginative scenes from the overrunning of Poland, along the lines of his chapel at Burghclere, however the Ministry rejected this initial suggestion as they required only eye-witness records. They proposed that he should paint views of a shipyard and airfield, on the basis of his experience with the Cunard Queen Mary project (Spencer had entered a competition to paint panels for the entrance to the ballroom of the Cunard liner four years earlier (Riveters, and Shipbuilding; both private collection). Spencer agreed and in May 1940 he visited Lithgow’s shipyards, staying for several weeks and making numerous detailed studies of the shipbuilding activities. ‘The yards and atmosphere of Port Glasgow delighted him, and he found there the close-knit community atmosphere which had been the central ‘homely’ element of his love for Cookham [which he had left in 1938]. Even in the shipyards the individual tasks of the men pleased him in the same way as the ‘fetching and carrying’ at Beaufort Hospital, which was one of the central themes of Burghclere’ (K. Bell, exhibition catalogue, Stanley Spencer R.A., London, Royal Academy, 1980, p. 181).

Caulking belongs to the early stages of Spencer’s commission for the WAAC. At the time, Spencer was living at the White Hart Inn at Leonard Stanley, with George and Daphne Charlton, and it was in the large front room that he had as a bedroom that he painted the first of his Shipbuilding on the Clyde series. All three sections of his Burners triptych were completed that summer. Progress on the first picture was extremely quick, and he was able to report to the WAAC that he ‘had ‘drawn out’ the left-hand wing of the triptych, as well as painting the small scene of Caulking’ (op. cit. p.182). He intended to use the drawing as the basis for a painting in the Shipbuilding series.

On completion of the triptych a month later, in August, Spencer submitted the panels to London whereupon the WAAC were so ‘delighted with [the] first three canvases in the Shipbuilding series…’ he was encouraged to proceed with a further three canvases. Spencer mentioned two large drawings in his letter of acceptance to the WAAC: Men Welding and Caulking. He was beginning to work on them at once, explaining: ‘I really think I have mastered one of the ideas anyway, that is the Caulking scene. You saw a study for a portion of the scene and since then … amazing … developments have taken place in it. In the midst of the tapping, drilling and hammering there is a moment when the men take their mallets in both hands and lam on to the iron pegs or wedges with all their force. One of these climaxes is occurring somewhere near the center [sic] of this idea and some ships davits with pyramids of rope descending from them form the background’ (S. Spencer, quote in Imperial War Museum archives, 1940, quoted in op. cit. pp. 182, 184).

‘This letter is evidence that at first Caulking was intended to be one of the fine big paintings commissioned by the WAAC. At this stage, however, there was a hiatus in the work while Spencer searched for lodgings large enough to enable him to work on the big canvases’ (op. cit. p. 184). In a letter to the WAAC in July 1940, he reported ‘… In order that the time should not be completely wasted in addition to continuing to work out this scheme I have drawn on to a long strip of canvas … I have also done a separate oil painting on canvas 2 ft x 36 ins. of one of the groups of caulkers (Imperial War Museum archives). This was the present painting, a small oil study, taken from the right-hand section of the original drawing.

Although Spencer did not abandon hope of painting what he referred to as ‘the big caulking and decker’ picture, he focused on other works in the series. He later explains in a letter to the WAAC on 26 August 1941: ‘I did this detail of it [Caulking] because I saw that as the scene occurs on the top deck of one of these cargo ships it would not be possible to bring it into the theme I have described. It would have to be a thing on its own’ (Imperial War Museum archives). Indeed, the other paintings in the series all depict activities below the deck: on the slipway, or in the shipyard workshops. Furthermore, Bell points out (op. cit. p. 191) the composition of the drawing and the pyramid-shaped groups of workmen on the left and right, would not have fitted into the long, narrow format adopted for the other paintings in the series.

The Imperial War Museum acquired the Shipbuilding series in 1946, along with the preparatory sketch for Caulking. The present work was sold to a private collector and remained in the collection for over fifty years until it was sold to the present owner. Zoltan Lewinter-Frankl (1894-1961), the first owner, was Spencer's friend and patron with whom he stayed in Northern Ireland between 1954-57, whilst visiting his brother Harold who lived nearby. Lewinter-Frankl was Northern Ireland’s only significant private patron throughout the 1940s and 1950s. A key source of support for Irish artists, his collection included paintings by Matthew Smith, Ivon Hitchens, L. S. Lowry, Walter Sickert and Jacob Epstein and he maintained friendships and correspondence with many European artists, counting Picasso and Oskar Kockoschka amongst his friends. Spencer particularly valued Frankl's patronship because he was more interested in his figure paintings than the still lifes and landscape paintings that Spencer found much easier to sell. Spencer began a portrait of Zoltan's wife Anny during the mid-1950s which remained unfinished, believed to be the last painting the artist was working on before his death.

The Shipbuilding series of paintings depict all of the major processes involved in the yard's intensive production of 'Y' class merchant ships during the war. Spencer records the contribution made by the working class community of Port Glasgow. Spencer does not seek to aggrandise the manual processes involved in the efforts of the workers, instead we have a faithful, compressed response. They are undoubtedly one of the most remarkable and original artistic records of the Second World War.

Caulking is the only work from the Shipbuilding series that remains in a private collection, and not in a museum.


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