Arthur Tooth and Sons, London, where acquired by Major J.R. Abbey, 23rd January 1945
Arthur Tooth and Sons, London, where acquired by Mrs H. Neame 3rd May 1950
Sale, Sotheby's, 13th December 1961, lot 251 as The Garden
Arthur Tooth and Sons, London, where acquired by Max Aitken, 1st Lord Beaverbrook (1879-1964), 11th April 1962, and thence to the present ownership
London, Arthur Tooth and Sons, Stanley Spencer C.B.E., R.A.: An Exhibition of Recent Landscapes, Portraits and Flower Paintings, 2nd May - 3rd June 1950, cat. no.12, as Garden Scene, Port Glasgow;
Fredericton, The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Sargent to Freud: Modern British Paintings and Drawings in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, 24th May - 13th September 1998, cat. no.40, illustrated p.143.
Like his Slade contemporary, Paul Nash, Spencer is one of the few major British artists whose work spans both WWI and WWII. Shortly after the outbreak of WWII, Spencer's dealer, Dudley Tooth, contacted the War Artist's Advisory Committee to see if something could be found for him, and after various interviews, it was suggested that a shipyard might be a suitable subject.
In May 1940, Spencer travelled to Lithgow's shipyards in Port Glasgow, spending several weeks there and producing many studies of the activities in the yards. He found not only the specific processes on which the workers were employed interesting, but also the community and atmosphere of the yards and the locale congenial, reminding him of the close-knit world of Cookham.
Spencer initially envisaged a huge scheme of paintings celebrating the activities of the shipyard, but this was scaled down and he was commissioned to paint five works. The first to be completed, Burners (IWM Collection) has an intensity of composition and activity which is testament to Spencer's involvement in the subject, and indeed he includes his own Stanley figure in the centre of the composition, gazing in wonder at the skill and industry of the men working around him. The WAAC were extremely pleased with the results, and the payments for the commission were very helpful to Spencer whose own finances had yet to recover from the near bankruptcy resulting from his spending on Patricia Preece in 1935-36, and the dropping away of the art market during the war.
As time passed, Spencer's involvement with the project waned as he transferred his interest to the ideas that were to become the Port Glasgow Resurrection paintings and the WAAC had to chivvy him strongly to see the commission completed. However, his repeated trips to the town, during which the present work was painted, further developed his interest in the place and its inhabitants. In his distinctive manner, Spencer describes this as '...there is an undefined not-yet-come-to-earth-Port-Glasgow epitomising something I hope to find and arrive at....I keep wondering what form it can have...' (R.H.Wilenski, Stanley Spencer: Resurrection Pictures, Faber, London 1951, p.2).
When staying in Port Glasgow, Spencer often lodged with a Mrs Whiteford at her guest house, Glencairn, and it appears that the present work may have been painted in the garden there. It was during his extended stay in 1944 that Spencer was introduced to Charlotte and Graham Murray, with whom he was to become close.
Like the best of Spencer's landscape work, he manages to create an image that is apparently conventional yet is raised beyond this by his delight in the infinite variety of the subject. As one gradually picks a way through the stepped beds and overlapping plants of the foreground, not forgetting the abundant weeds, the steep slope down which we are looking is gradually revealed, the solid form of the trunk of a silver birch anchoring the view and giving us something to break our descent. Down below, we see glimpses of the tiled roof of a neighbouring building, but with no clue as to its form or function we are brought back into the verdant garden before us.
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