The following has been prepared by Carolyn Leder, and we are grateful to her for her kind assistance with the cataloguing and this note for the present work:
Various comments in Spencer’s writings reveal him to be surprisingly knowledgeable as to the names and characteristics of flowers and plants, which played an important role in his oeuvre.
His acute sense of observation informs this still-life of roses painted on a visit to his brother Harold, who lived in Merville Garden Village, Whitehouse, Northern Ireland. A professional violinist, Harold was one of two Spencer siblings who became musicians. Stanley Spencer painted thirteen works on his visits to Harold. These include a self-portrait, some landscapes and garden scenes, as well as four striking portraits of his niece, Harold’s daughter Daphne.
This was one of the pictures selected by the artist for his signally successful exhibition in Cookham Church and Vicarage in 1958. It hung in the Vicarage and as he explained in the catalogue, it was ‘painted while staying in Northern Ireland with my brother, Harold.’ The colours of the roses combine with the swirling patterns on the jug and the detailed wood graining to make it an excellent example of Spencer’s handling of still-life.
The picture was purchased from Spencer by his friend and patron, Gerard Shiel, who lived in Englefield House, Cookham. He formed a collection of Spencer’s work which included five commissioned paintings of his house and garden. The men established another bond through their memories of service in Macedonia during the First World War, in which Shiel was a major in the Machine Gun Corps and, like the artist’s brother Sydney, was awarded the MC. Artist and patron - who became firm friends - spent many hours reminiscing about Macedonia. Gerard Shiel was later a Founder Member and Chairman of the Trustees of the Stanley Spencer Gallery.
Spencer chose roses again for a still life he painted for the Queen Mother on his knighthood in 1959. He even carried the painting to his investiture at Buckingham Palace but found that gifts were not allowed, so he gave the painting instead to the owner of the Torquil café in Cookham, who promptly renamed her café The Two Roses.
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