Stanley Spencer in Rotterdam/Francis Bacon in the Hague

Went at the weekend to the Kunsthal in Rotterdam,where there is a splendid new Spencer show.There are a large number of Spencers on display and also an attempt to contextualise the work by including work by many other contemporary British artists.So it turns into a wider review of the British art scene of the period,particularly of his early years.I can recall seeing pictures by William Roberts,Paul Nash,Gilbert Spencer,Bomberg,Freud,David Jones,Eric Gill,Wyndham Lewis etc etc.

One swings around a bit on Spencer.At one moment he is a mad English individualist in all his unique brilliance and there seems little point trying to find any context for him.Then it seems possible to see similarities between some of his work at some points with some of other people’s works at particular points in their careers.I am not a particular fan of the value of identifying influences in modern British art,but it must actually be quite unusual for artists to achieve genuine uniqueness.In Spencer’s case,of course,and probably in most cases,the influences may well be those of earlier artists and not contemporaries.So I suppose the possible value of setting the scene with the work of others is to show a whole generation of British artists responding to the same sort of shared inheritance that was art history when they started out,however divergent their careers became.

Anyway,worth a visit.I am not sure whether Rotterdam itself merits a long tourist stay,but we combined it with a stay in the Hague,from where we visited Delft on the tram and saw there the fascinating little Vermeer museum they have.At the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague there is currently a room full of Francis Bacon pictures,some on long term loan from the Estate.Unfortunately,they seem rather cramped in a small gallery with low ceilng and bright lights.The inevitable glazing on the pictures means that it is very difficult to look at the pictures without irritating reflections of lights and some sort of construction in the middle of the room.It is impossible to photograph the Bacons from any angle.

It’s been a bit of a Bacon fest recently,as we also came across the picture in the Thyssen in Madrid the week before.