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Life in the Home Guard, the Lake District and censorship are all tied up in a series of scenes offered at Liss Llewellyn’s current show.

The group of watercolours was completed by Gilbert Spencer (1892-1979).

He had eight siblings, including artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), and the two had their start together taking drawing lessons locally.

Gilbert performed well at the Slade School and focused on landscape painting. Like his brother, who is best known for his work during the First World War, he was an Official War Artist.

Going lakeside

The younger Spencer became a professor at the Royal College of Art (RCA), which was evacuated to Ambleside in the Lake District in 1941 during the Second World War.

Too old to enlist, he joined the Home Guard as a subsection leader. He described the citizen militia as “a brilliant stratagem on the part of the government to make us behave so ridiculously, and yet succeed in making us immensely proud of what we were doing”.

Spencer suggested it as possible subject matter to the War Artists Advisory Committee and was commissioned to paint several oil paintings on the subject, including one now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

He also completed a group of large watercolours, his Grasmere Home Guard Series, originally intended for publication. This offers witty observations of the citizen militia well before the era of Dad’s Army, which ran from 1968-77, and bear titles such as Darling, what have you done with my battledress?.

When the series was sent off for publication, Royal Mail intercepted the package and ripped the watercolours along one side in an act of censorship. Spencer later repaired the damage.

Modern masters

Eight pictures from the group are offered at the Liss Llewellyn’s exhibition Modern Masters II, each measuring 21½in x 2ft 5in (55 x 75cm) and priced from £6000-12,000. Running until January 7, the show takes place at The Worshipful Company of Mercers and is open weekdays by appointment only.

Other pictures on offer include works by Charles HH Burleigh (1875-1956), Reginald Brill (1902-74) and Mary Adshead (1904-95).

lissllewellyn.com