Self Portrait – Sir Stanley Spencer


Self Portrait – Sir Stanley Spencer. Firstly, this is what I believe is called unflinching. Painted in the last few months of his life, after unsuccessful surgery for cancer. It has a potency, and an ultimate sadness to it. You can see it in his eyes, they transfix the viewer. No pulled punches. Every line is there for us to see.


Certainly the devil is in the detail here. Worthy of mention is his neck. This may seem like a strange area to focus on, but you can see the fragile condition of his soul right there. This evokes a great deal of sympathy in the viewer. Consequently, we are looking at a doomed man. Is this a painting of hope though? I think so. He encourages us to look deeper, to look behind the scraggy neck and lined face. It gives us a certain introspection on our own condition. Our own mortality. The background is fixed, but transient. Is this what Spencer is saying to us? We all exist for a certain amount of time, and then what actually remains? A series of portraits. Some photographic images. Is this what our lives are reduced to? Images and memories. Perhaps.


The choice of colour here is very telling. We are forced to focus on the artist’s face. The background is fairly muted and nondescript. In fact, the entire portrait is very simple. There are no frills here. He didn’t have time for any flourish. This leads us to the ultimate sadness of the work. It is a very sobering thought to know that your time is shortly going to be up. He conveys that. His expression is blank, emotionless. That must be how he felt inside.


To sum up, I find this an incredibly moving work. It is the work of a master craftsman who knew that the inevitable was just around the corner. He is able to convey his ultimate sorrow at having to leave the party. Therefore he leaves us with an everlasting image of greatness and resolution. It’s an inspiration for art lovers everywhere.


Any thoughts?

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