Spencer's War: The Art of Shipbuilding on the Clyde

Stanley Spencer Gallery

1 April 2011 – 15 January 2012

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Stanley Spencer's Shipbuilding on the Clyde series represents, in the words of Stanley Spencer Gallery Curator Carolyn Leder, 'one of the most remarkable artistic records of the Second World War'.

'He achieved a rare feat,' she continues, 'by producing some of the most original masterpieces by any artist in response to the two great conflicts of the 20th century.'Stanley Spencer's Shipbuilding on the Clyde series represents, in the words of Stanley Spencer Gallery Curator Carolyn Leder, 'one of the most remarkable artistic records of the Second World War'. 'He achieved a rare feat,' she continues, 'by producing some of the most original masterpieces by any artist in response to the two great conflicts of the 20th century.'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.The eight paintings in the series (six of which appear in this exhibition) depict all of the major processes involved in the yard's intensive production of 'Y' class merchant ships during the war. No set pieces or grand events here, just a faithful, albeit compressed, record of the manual process involved in the prodigious efforts of the workers. Spencer himself appears in Burners and Welders. Football manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who comes from a family of Port Glasgow shipbuilders, wrote in Art Quarterly of his admiration for Spencer's work: 'How did the workers take to him? When they saw someone lurking in the background with a paintbrush or sketchbook they probably wondered, "What the hell is he after? We've never seen this guy before " What does he want?" There's a wonderful photograph showing Spencer sketching at the side of a ship in Port Glasgow, with one of the shipyard workers standing in the background and smoking a cigarette, as if to say "Where's he from? What's he doing here?"'But it's obvious from speaking to the family that he was very well received, and that he lived with some of the shipyard workers in their houses ... I thought it was great that Spencer managed to capture the toil, the endeavour and the skill of these people.'

Venue information

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)