Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Stanley Spencer's Heaven in Hell of War Hangings Compared

View of Sandham Memorial Chapel
While Sandham Memorial Chapel is being renovated and updated the National Trust has sent its removable works on road in the form of an exhibition - Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War.

I had the pleasure of seeing again the exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, having first seen it at Somerset House last year. It was an opportunity to not only once again to enjoy Spencer’s visionary masterpieces close up, but also to compare the hanging of the two exhibitions.

Much has been written about the paintings in the exhibition. I do not believe I can add more, so I direct the reader to some of the online reviews: Culture24 on Pallant House Gallery Exhibition, The Guardian and The Telegarph  on Somerset House

What intrigued me was the how the different hangings  - Somerset House and Pallant House Gallery - created very different aesthetic effects.

Somerset House 
Somerset House

Somerset House chose to emulate The Sandham Memorial Chapel in a smaller space, with bright, direct lighting in contrast to the subdued, natural light of the Chapel. Being so close, with such good lighting gave the works a newer fresher appearance, looking as though they might have been recently cleaned. The result of the Somerset hanging was a very effective re-enactment of the Chapel with much better, closer viewing opportunities. The presentation of the Resurrection altarpiece was masterful, this was entered through a narrow entrance at the end of the main nave like exhibition space.  There was a projection of the Resurrection image on to the wall as shown in the picture (right), the space looked purpose made for presenting Spencer’s masterpiece.

Pallant House Gallery Resurrection
The Pallant House Gallery hanging in contrast choose not to present the Resurrection not as one image , instead used a detail from it on a wall marking  the entrance to their exhibition. No  attempt was made to recreate the Chapel space.  They separated the predellas from the lunettes into two rooms. This division immediately created a totally different aesthetic from Somerset House. Here we had an exhibition of an artist’s work over two rooms in two different canvas formats, all presented very convienently at eye level.
Pallant House Gallery Predellas

Pallant House Gallery Lunettes

Pallant House Gallery Lunettes
The effect was very different from Somerset house.  The Pallent House Gallery hanging seemed to bring one even closer to the paintings, encouraging individual comparison one work with another. While Somerset House in bringing the works together in one space attempting to reconstruct a brightly lit version of Sandham created its own aesthetic, very different from that of The Pallent House hang.

Which was better? Hard to say, certainly Someset House recreation was dramatic bringing one close to the work as whole, while  I felt the Pallant House Gallery gave us the chance to consider  each work individually, in its own right. I would argue that each hanging has its merits and together form an excellent introduction to Sandham Memorial Chapel when it reopens for visitors in July this year.

View of Sandham Memorial Chapel


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