Gilbert Spencer was born just over a year after his infamous brother Stanley (1891-1959) at Cookham in Berkshire. He initially trained at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts before studying wood carving at The Royal College of Art. This was followed by two years at the Slade, but his studies were interrupted by the onset of World War I when he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps. A posting at the Beaufort military hospital in Bristol, where he was briefly joined by Stanley, was followed by a transfer to the Eastern Mediterranean where he served for the remainder of the conflict. He completed his studies at the Slade in 1920 and embarked on a career working in various media and subject matter but chiefly as a landscape painter.
His style is highly idiosyncratic yet he was undoubtedly influenced by his brother, incorporating elements of Post-Impressionism and combining these with the heightened simplicity of the Neo-Primitive Movement. He was inspired by the landscape of his native Berkshire, and latterly the effect of The Great War; regularly depicting the powerful juxtaposition of troops, who were ultimately destined to fight, in bucolic surroundings. His post-World War I paintings often show rural environments, absent of humans, where nature is unbound, a subtle reference to the lack of manpower following the slaughter of the Western Front.
He became a member of the New English Art Club in 1919 and held his first solo exhibition at the Goupil Gallery in 1923. Much of the remainder of his career was dedicated to teaching, becoming Professor of painting at the Royal College of Art in 1932, Head of the Painting Department at the Glasgow School of Art from 1948 to 1950 and head of painting at the Camberwell School of art from 1950 to 1957. In the interim he was also official war artist during World War II and elected to the Royal Academy in 1960.
His works can be found in: Bradford, Museum and Art Gallery; Cambridge, The Fitzwilliam Museum; Kirklees, Museum and Art Gallery; Leeds, Museum and Art Gallery; London, The Tate Gallery, The Royal Academy, Government Art Collection and Imperial War Museum and Southampton, The Civic Centre and City Art Gallery.