History of Art MA

The Trouble with Stanley Spencer HISTART4073

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Culture and Creative Arts
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Either Semester 1 or Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes

Short Description

This course examines the work of the English painter Stanley Spencer (Sir Stanley Spencer CBE RA, 1891-1959). Though Spencer's critical reputation has steadily grown since his death, his nature as an artist is still subject to a range of misrepresentation which is arguably unparalleled for a painter of his stature. The course will look at a number of ways in which Spencer's art has been categorised, tracing these via a loosely chronological account of his development. Particular attention will be paid to issues of biography, idiosyncrasy, modernity, the 'primitive', 'distortion', sex and religious experience. The work of some of Spencer's contemporaries (especially of his fellow students at The Slade) will be brought into play, as will Spencer's interest in early Italian art, and areas of his work often subjected to critical neglect (landscapes; portraits) will be looked at.


10 x 1 hr lectures and 10 x 1hr Seminars, as scheduled on MyCampus. This is one of the Honours options in History of Art and may not run every year. The options that are running this session are available on MyCampus.

Excluded Courses





Examination (120 minutes duration) - 60%

Essay (2,000 words) - 30%

Visual test (40 minutes duration) - 10%

Main Assessment In: April/May

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? Not applicable for Honours courses

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. For non-Honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions for this course are described below. 

Course Aims

This course will provide the opportunity to:

■ make a rounded re-evaluation of Stanley Spencer's work

■ examine the relationship between works of art and the artist's life with specific reference to Spencer's biography

■ evaluate Spencer's work within the artistic context of its period (nationally and internationally)

■ analyse the effects on Spencer's reputation of both press and scholarly commentaries on his work

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

■ analyse the work of Stanley Spencer in terms of the broad developments of early & mid C20th British art

■ analyse his work with reference to his interest in early renaissance painting

■ produce a nuanced and balanced discussion of his work in relation to the biographical context

■ assess accurately the place of nature and the imagination in Spencer's art and the relationship between the two

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.