Robert Spencer was one of the most important painters associated with the Pennsylvania Impressionist art colony in Bucks County but stylistically, his work was very different from most of his New Hope colleagues. Instead of painting scenes from nature, Spencer made his reputation with skillful, evocative views of everyday life, often depicting the mills, tenements, and factories of New Hope and surrounding areas. He also made many paintings of the street life and waterfronts of New York City and France, and toward the end of his life experimented with modernist ideas as well as his own particular brand of historical painting.
Organized by the Michener Art Museum, this major retrospective exhibition and the accompanying catalog examine both his life and his work, and is a rare opportunity to explore tin depth the world of this major Bucks County painter.
In sharp contrast to many other successful artists of his day, who made their living with pleasant, idyllic — and largely unpopulated — landscapes, Spencer was drawn to the lived-in, more urban environments, whose slightly dilapidated facades and ordinary working people compelled him. ‘A landscape without a building or a figure is a very lonely picture to me,’ he said.
His friend F. Newlin Price wrote in an 1923 article that Robert Spencer ‘has idealized the clumsy barges of the [Delaware] Canal and covereted dark silk factories into dream castles…’ Through his powerful body of work, Spencer’s deep affection for the cities, towns and people he chose to depict is apparent, and continues to live.