My father was a great fan of the artist Stanley Spencer, and met him once in Cookham where Spencer lived. Cookham is very close to Bisham where my parents occupied a caravan in 1945. It seems likely that Father came across Spencer as a local character; he certainly met him on at least one occasion. Spencer, who was always hard up, once offered to paint a picture for my father for £5. It might as well have been £5,000 for all the likelihood that he had a fiver on him, let alone one to spare.
Father was a skilled graphic artist, and over the years produced a number of paintings in oils. Sadly, like many of the projects he started, he frequently failed to finish his art works. Nevertheless, one that was fairly complete had its provenance in a painting by his idol—who may have inspired him to paint in the first place. The Resurrection, Cookham, which Spencer exhibited in 1927, shows that Biblical event taking place in Cookham churchyard, with the dead rising from their graves on the day of judgement.
Like Spencer, my father spent virtually his whole life in the place where he was born, so when contemplating his own version of the Resurrection, it was natural that he should place it in the churchyard of the local Ealing parish church of St Mary’s. St Mary’s Church was very close to where we lived in South Ealing. The building, enlarged and redecorated in 1873, looks like a ‘Byzantine Basilica’ inside, but it’s most striking feature is its rectilinear tower. The tower resembles St Stephen’s clock tower at Westminster (now the Elizabeth Tower), albeit with the clock much lower and only possessing one face. My father decided to make this quite unique church the backdrop for his painting.
The view, at the back of the church, is from a path that extends through the churchyard which I have walked along many times in my life. It shows the angels blowing the ‘last trump’ to awaken the dead for their judgement. The dead are emerging from their tombs, one in Tudor attire, another bearing the sword of a Cavalier. To the right of the angels, at the edge of the picture, are two figures in modern dress. One is wearing a brown jacket and holding an artist’s palette. The figure with white hair and a dark jacket is Stanley Spencer; the artist next to him is my father, in a wonderfully accurate caricature, immediately recognizable.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs