A miserable state of things

The war might be over, but artist Stanley Spencer was still stuck in the army, with efforts to attach him to the War Artists Scheme having come to nothing.

Dec 1 1918
5 Raymond Bdgs
Grey’s Inn
WC1

Dear Mrs Image

I have written again to Ld [Milner?]’s Private Secretary, to whom I wrote about Stanley a month or so ago – asking whether anything can possibly be done.

It’s a miserable state of things; I wd do anything to get him out, but there seems to be a brick wall somewhere. If I hear anything to the purpose I will let you know at once. I am longing to have him back at his painting.

How interesting & delightful his letters are. I hope Gil & he will both soon be back with you. I am so sorry about your brother who was killed.

Tell Stanley I have had another shot at helping him…

Do let me know if you get any news from his side. I sent him my Memoir of Rupert Brooke some weeks ago, I hope he will have got it.

Yours sincerely
E Marsh

Letter from E Marsh to Florence Image (D/EX801/110)

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“In justice to the Army we must understand that they are also at their wits’ end for men and as hardly any of them understand that the spirit wants support as well as the body, they look probably upon us all as cranks”

Henry Tonks (1862-1937) was a professor at the Slade School of Art, where Stanley Spencer had been among his pupils. He was trying to get Stanley released from the army to become a war artist,and was frustrated by the bureaucracy.

Vale Studio B
Vale Avenue
Chelsea SW8

Oct 12 1918

My dear Image

I am at my wits end to know what to do about the various cases of artists who are wanted by the Ministry of Information etc to do work whom the War Office will not let go. I received a pathetic letter from [Stanley] Spencer to whom I am very much attached and all I could do was to write him a letter consoling him as best I could. I will write to Yockney and ask him if he is willing (as representing the Ministry of Information) for me to try and come to some understanding. In justice to the Army we must understand that they are also at their wits’ end for men and as hardly any of them understand that the spirit wants support as well as the body, they look probably upon us all as cranks. The Admiralty are much easier to deal with.

Would you believe it, the Army will not release Russell, my chief assistant or give him time to paint a picture, he is 52, in the Res, volunteered, and been nearly 3 years in the Army. Write to poor Stanley Spencer and console him if you can.

Yours very sincerely
Henry Tonks

Letter from Henry Tonks to [Selwyn or John Maxwell] Image (D/EX801/110)

“A chaffinch is singing impetuously overhead, & it is peace, absolute peace”

Sydney enjoyed a pleasant day off.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 7 June 1918

After a most beautiful night’s sleep I got up at eight o’clock. Took breakfast at my leisure & am now lying under an apple tree in an orchard with the four other men. We are sprawling on the grass in the warm sunshine & a chaffinch is singing impetuously overhead, & it is peace, absolute peace.

We are now going into Hesdin.

Went into Hesdin & bought some gloves. 22 francs. Also some cherries. Afterwards got my hair cut, & had a delicious bath in camp commandant’s enclosure. Returned to mess at 1 pm. After lunch wrote a long letter to Bertha Lamb & also to Florence.

After tea went over churchyard & church with Major Knights & Graham. Then a short walk. Finally we lay in orchard & read. I read more of Tartarin de Tarascon. Have got half way through it.

Now it is dinner time. The army chemical adviser & gas instructor has just rolled in. We start work tomorrow morning. After dinner, went to bed & read more of Tartarin de Tarascon. To sleep by about 10.30 pm. (After dinner a short walk to Barker’s billet.)

Will Spencer
7 June 1918

A letter … for me from Mother, from Florrie’s. …

Mother’s letter contained the news that Percy had received still further promotion, – that he and Horace and Sydney had not yet met in France, but hoped to do so later, – and that Stanley’s name had been suggested to undertake war pictures, & he had “accepted the offer”, & would be leaving his present position.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer in France (D/EZ177/8/15); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/29)

“The line is a very different country now to what it was when I was here in September 1916”

Percy Spencer, as a single man, relied heavily on his sister Florence for the supply of toiletries and other things, and even asked her to do his mending. He was pleased to hear that former art student brother Stanley had been asked to join the War Artists scheme. As Percy proudly predicted, it was to be the first step in a starry career.

June 5, 1918

My dear WF

Thank you for the long letter, battery, key ring and tinder ‘lighter’, the lighter however does everything but light and the battery is the wrong shape. I think I said tubular. However I’m trying to get one here.

I got the last parcel – in fact all you have sent I think, dear. But letters do seem scarce when one’s only correspondents are a dear sister and one’s mother and father.

Can I give you another wants list –

6 eyelets for field boots
1 pair long laces (field boots)
2 pairs mohair laces (ankle boots)
Cake Wrights coal tar soap
Tube Kolynos tooth paste
Socks

3 or 4 pairs of socks I have, want mending. May I send them back to you on receipt of some from you?

I can’t remember whether I left any at my diggings. If you have none I’ll write to Mrs Curtis.

I’m having a lovely time camped in a wood by a stream. Worked pretty hard, as the orderly room has run downhill badly and I’m applying ginger.

We generally get a few hours bombing each night and occasional shelling and gas shelling, but nothing very near. Had a lucky escape further back a week or so ago. The Huns shelled our camp and dropped a shell close to the tent the doctor and I were in and between 2 bivouacs. Luckily we were all sleeping at the time and the force of the explosion and another from the shell went over us.

Last night I went for a walk up the line as I was feeling rather bilious. It was about 8 miles up from here. A very different country now to what it was when I was here in September 1916. It was a very quiet trip, no shelling or machine gunning. Arrived back at 2.30 am and feel all the better for my walk this morning.

Have you seen that Gen. K has got a CMG?

Your news about Stanley is the best that has reached me for many a day. Of course it’s a terrific compliment to his work and an appreciation which may be the making of his name.

I rather think that Sydney is north of me.

Yours ever
Percy


Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/41-44)

Coming to life again

At last Stanley Spencer’s true talents would be used in the war.

Ministry of Information
May 10.18

Dear Sir

In connection with the Scheme for utilizing the artistic resources of the country for record purposes, it has been suggested that you should be invited to paint a picture or pictures relating to the war. It is proposed that an application be made to the War Office for your services in this connection.

Mr Muirhead Bone who takes a great interest in your work has suggested that you could paint a picture under some such title as “A religious service at the Front”. When I spoke to him on the subject he had an idea I think that you were in France. I write to ask whether in the event of this scheme maturing, you would be disposed to do such artistic work, and I should be glad to know whether you have noticed any subjects on or about Salonika which could be painted by you before you return, if desired, nearer home.

Yours faithfully

A Yockney

[Annotated with Stanley’s comments:]

It seems wonderful after being in the army nearly 3 years suddenly to get a letter such as this. It will be wonderful to be able to actually express on an ambitious scale some of he impressions that I have received in these hills: it will be like coming to life again.

This letter was sealed with the Royal Arms (I say this because you have doubts about letters of this nature).


Ministry of Information to Stanley Spencer (D/EX801/110)