Stanley Spencer’s Shipbuilding on the Clyde is one of the great achievements of British art in the 20C. The War Artists Advisory Committee commissioned the paintings from Spencer in 1940.
Shipbuilding comprises an extensive series of panels that show the various activities and stages of shipbuilding in Lithgow’s Kingston yards at Port Glasgow. Spencer visited the yards and lived at Port Glasgow during 1939 and subsequently. The story of Shipbuilders is well known. In spite of this the related print is remains little known.
The original paintings are now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, London. They were included in the major Spencer retrospective (RA1980.216) and are exhibited regularly in the museum, and beyond (AC1981. IWM1989. SNPG2000).
The work of the shipbuilding industry played a crucial role in the productive efforts of total war. The circumstances of Britain, after 1940, were of an urgent requirement for ships and transports to break through the u-boat blockades in the Atlantic and to keep Fortress Britain supplied with food, materials and arms.
The Herculean efforts of the Clydebank workers were quickly incorporated into the mythology of Britain’s Home-Front (Calder 1992.70).
Towards the end of 1941, the National Gallery made a serious attempt to widen access to the work of the Official War Artists…
The Ministry of Information decided that some war pictures should be printed and distributed, at cost, to factory canteens and other venues where the general public see the prints (Rogerson 2006.145).
Accordingly, four large prints were made from the work of Paul Nash, Barnett Freedman, Edward Ardizzone and Stanley Spencer. The images selected reflect the various aspects of Britain’s war effort. The four images were chosen so as to show both military and civilian engagement. They may be understood, along with the other cultural activities of the war, as part of an official effort to position social egalitarianism at the centre of Britain’s war effort.
The spirit of collective service and co-operation, evident in each of these prints, provided a clear statement of the social and political values that distinguished Britain from its totalitarian enemy. Notwithstanding this evidence, the association between the political establishment and worker interests remained problematic for the political elite.
This was especially true during the period of German and Soviet non-aggression. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union (December 1940) worker solidarity became more easily integrated into the narrative of British war effort.
The Ministry’s scheme required that the prints be produced in large enough scale for the images to be successfully displayed in utilitarian industrial spaces. Furthermore, the requirements of effective propaganda dictated that the prints be produced in large enough quantity so as to be seen by as many people as possible. The move beyond the art gallery, and its limited audience, was facilitated by the technology of colour lithography.
Lithography remained, at the outbreak of WW2, a highly skilled industrial craft. The Baynard Press was amongst the largest and most technically accomplished printing firms in Britain. They had machinery and plant resources that allowed them to produce large-scale poster images for the advertising of London Transport and various other organisations. The Baynard Press also maintained a level of technical excellence through the employment of Thomas Griffits and other master craftsmen. This allowed the firm to produce work of the highest standard. At the outbreak of WW2, the entire resources of the firm were made available to support the war effort.
Stanley Spencer is one of the foremost British artists of the 20C. Spencer attended the Slade School of Art in London and worked as a war artist in WW1. In the 1920s, he was invited to decorate the Memorial Chapel at Burghclere, Hampshire, for the Behrens family. Spencer lived for most of his life at Cookham, on the Thames.
Village life in Cookham provides the enduring theme of much of Spencer’s work. Notwithstanding the prosaic subject matter, this work is anything but anecdotal. Cookham became, in Spencer’s hands, an allegory for spiritual community.
It was a big step from Cookham to Port Glasgow. In fact, Spencer had successfully tackled a number of industrial themes before his visit to Scotland. In 1929, he was commissioned by the Empire Marketing Board to produce a series of posters illustrating Industry and Peace (RA1980.122-128).
In 1933 he contributed a design of a mural to the decorative schemes for the RNS Queen Mary (RA1980.176).
Shipbuilders combines compositional elements derived from these earlier pictures along with the communitarian sympathy evident in the spirituality of Spencer’s pictures of Cookham. The print shows a central panel of Spencer’s scheme called Burners.
The prints in the Ministry’s exhibition scheme were produced within the context of a relatively austere war economy. They were printed on machine made paper in an edition of about 1000. The prints were sent out to factories and canteens, where they were pasted onto the walls. Despite the large edition size, very few of these prints survive. For some reason, the Spencer print is the rarest of all.
Nowadays, these prints are increasingly recognized as historically significant objects and works of art. They are now acknowledged as part of a cultural revolution, comprising writing, photography, art and film-making, that prepared the way for the social democratic transformations of British society after 1945. The publication of Henry Moore’s Shelter Sketchbook and the documentary films of Humphrey Jennings are other, better known, parts of this story.
The documentary film Out of Chaos (1944), by Jill Craigie, includes interviews with Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and Stanley Spencer in Port Glasgow. The film shows the evident sympathy between Spencer and his worker colleagues.
We are proud to offer this rare and important British wartime print for sale. P.O.A.
size: c.30" x 40"
Condition The print has been museum conserved to reduce the acidity within the paper. The print has been washed and cleaned and laid onto a acid-free paper support. The colours are spectacularly bright. A very good copy of this rare and significant print.
Arts Council (1981) Spencer in the Shipyard
Calder A (1992) The Myth of the Blitz London, Pimlico
Foss B (2007) War Paint New Haven CT, YUP
Garton R (1992) British Printmakers London, Scolar
see chapter seven, the poster-print, p273
IWM (1989) Shipbuilding on the Clyde
MoMA NYC (1940) Britain at War
Newton E (1945) War through Artist’s Eyes London, John Murray
reproduces Burners as frontispiece
Rogerson I (2006) Barnett Freedman The Graphic Arts
Upper Denby, Fleece Press
RA (1980) Stanley Spencer
Ross A (1983) Colours of War London, Jonathan Cape
SNPG (2000) Men of the Clyde: Stanley Spencer’s Vision at Port Glasgow
Rare original first edition of Stanley Spencer's Almanac for 1927 (numbered out of edition of 250) p.o.a.
29 November - 1 March 2015
Travelling exhibition HEAVEN IN A HELL OF WAR
Manchester Art Gallery displays Burghclere mural cycle panels
prior to return to newly restored Sandham Memorial Chapel
(archive of events past)
June 2013 CRISIS OF BRILLIANCE EXHIBITION at DULWICH PICTURE GALLERY
September 2011 - January 2012 exhibition at Kunsthal Rotterdam - first European exhibition of this important British artist.
see also the dedicated Stanley Spencer Gallery at Cookham and for a Spencer jewel visit Sandham Memorial Chapel.
***see inside the Sandham Memorial Chapel and hear Stanley Spencer talking about it too.