The Cookham Brotherhood The Art of Gilbert and Stanley Spencer The exhibition runs from 28th March – 3rd November 2024

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According to the twentieth-century critic Eric Newton, Gilbert (1892-1979) and Stanley (1891-1958) Spencer were more than brothers they were ‘affinities’. Born one year and four weeks apart they were brought up in Cookham, in an unconventional but cultivated household almost as twins, the rhythm of each life mirroring the other. For both of them music, religion and nature were a common language. Their sense of awe at the natural world was in many ways a very Victorian discipline, for that was the era from which they emerged as adults, stumbling into the twentieth century – an era of war and huge social and economic change.

Stanley wrote to Gilbert that ‘Cookham was for you as it was for me. We both had identical sympathies and a different sort of approach.’ For both brothers Cookham had all they needed, with commons, backwaters, Cliveden Woods and other ‘mysterious spaces.’ Whilst Stanley became more concerned with the metaphysical, religious otherworldliness of their home village, Gilbert – more ‘of the people’ than his brother – was more practically minded. Although not immune to the mysteries of Cookham, his early childhood was spent making models of animals, carts and wagons made from scraps of wood and leather at the dining room of their home, Fernlea. Cookham was, in Gilbert’s words, the ‘backdrop to all that followed, these early sculptural explorations culminating in one of his masterpieces, A Cotswold Farm, which will be on loan from Tate.

The exhibition will explore Gilbert Spencer’s identity as an artist, with loans from private collections and Tate. Comparative works by Stanley will also feature in the exhibition, which demonstrate the brothers’ unified vision, and also their rivalry. Stanley considered Gilbert the more accomplished landscape artist, which may explain his reticence to engage with that practice later in life. The two brothers also fought for the affections of the artist Hilda Carline (1889-1950), the personable Gilbert ultimately losing out to the loquacious otherworldliness of his brother, who married her in 1925 – although Gilbert did accompany them on honeymoon.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of Gilbert Spencer. The Life and Work of a Very English Artist (Yale, edited by Paul Gough with contributions by Sacha Llewellyn and Amanda Bradley Petitgas).