Lot 128
  • 128

Sir Stanley Spencer R.A.

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Sir Stanley Spencer R.A.
  • Magnolias, 1938
  • oil on canvas
  • 56 by 66cm.; 22 by 26in.


Acquired directly from the artist by the Rt Hon. Malcolm Macdonald P.C, M.P., 1938, and thence by descent to the present owner


London, National Gallery, British Painting since Whistler, 1940, no.117;
London, Royal Academy, Stanley Spencer R.A., 20th September - 14th December 1980, cat. no.193, illustrated in the catalogue, p.169.


Keith Bell, Stanley Spencer, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Phaidon London, 1992, no.248, illustrated p.453.


The canvas appears to be in good original condition. The paint surface appears to be in good overall condition. There is no sign of retouching under ultra-violet light. Held in a rectilinear composition frame. Please telephone the department on 020 7293 5381 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"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

Spencer recorded in his 1938 Desk Diary that he began Magnolias in March of that year and on 5th April 1938, he wrote to his dealer Dudley Tooth saying that it was 'as good as anything I have done'. It was Tooth who had first encouraged him to produce still life and landscape work in the mid 1930s for which he found a ready market through his London Gallery and the present work is listed under the more expansive title Magnolias in Berry's Lane, Cookham in Tooth's photographic archive. Although this body of work can appear at first to be at completely opposite ends of the spectrum to the more challenging figurative compositions of the period such as Adoration of Old Men (1937, Leicestershire Museums and Art Galleries) and The Beautitude of Love series (1937 - 1938), rather than being opposites, they are 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 such, Tooth's ability to easily find buyers for his still life and landscape work proved to be critical at the time. Although Spencer sometimes resented this pressure, feeling that it took him away from his figurative paintings, he found that his periods of still life and landscape painting removed him from his domestic troubles and, as his friend Sir John Rothenstein noted, gave '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 as in the case of the present work set in Berry's Lane, or more general such as Potato Field, Cookham (1938, Private Collection), 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 Magnolias, the familiar affinity which the artist demonstrated 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 similar works found their way into collections around the world, perhaps seen by their owners as a small piece of England.