Marina Vaizey reviews the exhibition Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War at Somerset House, London, on view through January 26, 2014.
Vaizey writes that the venue "provides an unrepeatable experience, as we are able to see the newly restored paintings close up in bright light, appreciate the dizzying changes of scale, and the detail, often almost exquisite, of tent and military uniform and kit, the sand and arid landscape of Macedonia, the prison-like aspect of the Bristol hospital, the explosions of foliage and blossom. All is in a restricted range of colours – ochres, reds, rusts, browns, whites, occasional deep blues – which nevertheless convey bursts of light. Facial expressions are almost uniformly wooden, any liveliness apparent in body language. Spencer, through his own intensely idiosyncratic, eccentric, inimitable idiom, somehow conveys a range of expressions from acceptance, through resignation, to hope. He continually plays with the passive – the sleeping men – and the active, the hospital orderlies, the soldiers anticipating action."