Lot 34
  • 34

Sir Stanley Spencer R.A.

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Sir Stanley Spencer R.A.
  • cookham on thames
  • oil on canvas
  • 61 by 91.5cm., 24 by 36in.


Arthur Tooth & Sons, London whence acquired by Sir James McGregor, KBE, Sydney, 1937 and thence by descent to the present owner


Sydney, National Gallery of New South Wales, Special Exhibition of Contemporary British and Continental Artists, 19th October - 31st December 1938.


Keith Bell, Stanley Spencer: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, London, 1992, no.223, p.450, illustrated in colour, pp.280-281. 


The canvas is unlined and the painting is in absolutely fantastic original condition. No retouching is visible under ultra-violet light. Held in a rectilinear wooden and plaster frame (probably original) with a cream canvas slip. The colours are very slightly less vibrant than in the catalogue illustration.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In Spencer’s painting of the middle 1930s, the landscape and figurative works can appear to be at completely opposite ends of the spectrum of his art. Indeed, his figure paintings were considered at the time to be of such challenging and difficult subject matter that they were rarely shown in public. However, rather than being opposites, the landscapes and figure paintings are actually the embodiment of two intertwined facets of Spencer’s life.

Although Spencer had vaguely known Patricia Preece for some time, it was only after he moved back to his home town of Cookham with his wife Hilda in 1931 that a relationship between the two began to develop. Perhaps accentuated by difficulties in his marriage, Stanley became infatuated with Patricia. Through the early years of the decade, Spencer wrestled with the situation, attempting to steer a path that would allow him to keep both women, a path that could never succeed. Hilda was initially tolerant of Spencer’s situation but remained firm, whilst Patricia became more and more demanding of his time and resources, and Spencer found himself in dire financial straits on a number of occasions.

As a result, his dealer, Dudley Tooth, encouraged Spencer to produce landscape and still-life work for which he found a ready market through his London gallery. To a certain extent, Spencer resented this pressure, feeling that it took him away from his figurative paintings, but he found that his periods of landscape painting removed him from his domestic troubles and, as his friend Sir John Rothenstein noted, ‘give him hours of peaceful respite from the fearful effort involved in the production of large pictures, packed with incident and deeply felt; they refresh his vision by constantly renewing his intimate contacts with nature; and they charge his fabulous memory’.

The paintings of Cookham in this period, whether specific or panoramic, serve to re-emphasize Spencer’s intimate involvement in the use of the town as his personal setting for the dramas of his visionary imagery, and in paintings such as the present work, the familiar affinity which the artist demonstrates for his home town is clear. The sense of place and the innate Englishness of the local landscape that Spencer found so inspirational was also a key factor in the saleability of such paintings, and many such works found their way into collections around the Empire, perhaps seen by their owners as a small piece of England. Indeed the original owner of this painting, Sir James McGregor, had a number of Spencer paintings of Cookham in his collection and was a first-generation Australian of Scottish descent. This theme of Cookham as idyll, and thus the setting for Spencer’s spiritual Arcadia, is clear in the present painting. The view across the water meadows towards the river and the woods beneath a sunlit sky heavy with rolling clouds is in itself an image of a peculiarly English notion of perfection, and dating from 1937, is thus contemporaneous with the major A Village in Heaven (Coll. Manchester City Art Galleries).