Art Collections Online
Souvenir of Switzerland
SPENCER, Sir Stanley (1891 - 1959)
Media: oil on canvas
Size: 107.0 x 320.5 cm
Acquired: 1998; Purchase; with assistance Derek Williams Trust / National Art Collections Fund / National Heritage Lottery Fund
Accession Number: NMW A 11709
Stanley Spencer was probably the finest figurative painter working in Britain during the 1930s. This triptych was commissioned by Sir Edward Beddington-Behrens, a prominent economist and a distinguished patron of modern art. Believing 'it might be a source of inspiration to see life in the mountains where religion plays such a vital and dominant part in the life of the people', in 1933 he invited Spencer to stay with him in the mountainous Saas valley, in Valais in southern Switzerland. Spencer made studies of people, costumes, chapels and gaily painted wayside shrines, from which he painted this monumental work after his return to England. Spencer wrote: 'When I saw the peasants standing on the steps, they were like memorials of Switzerland, each standing on its own pedestal. And so in the panel I have felt that each panel was devoted to some aspect of Swiss feeling'. He believed 'It is much better than if I painted it on the spot because if I feel it sufficiently intensely to paint it from memory it has got to live'. The man with praying hands, fourth from the left in the standing group at the right of the central panel, is a self-portrait of the artist.