Throughout his career, it is his landscape paintings and paintings of nature and still life that have been of continuous appeal to collectors and commercial success for Sir Stanley Spencer. This is as true today in the current market as it was in the 1930s when Spencer was exhibiting with his dealer, Dudley Tooth. Although critically the landscapes and still life paintings have not received the same attention as his figurative and imaginative work, they have remained constantly admired and appreciated by the buying public. In 1936 at the Tooth exhibition that year, Spencer sold immensely more landscape than figurative paintings (to his slight consternation). As Keith Bell has pointed out, the nostalgia and idealization of the English countryside after World War 1 as expressed through the back to land movement must in part be responsible for the particular interest in Spencers landscape and rural art to collectors at that time (see K.Bell, Stanley Spencer: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Phaidon, London, 1992, p. 184). This keen interest in the English landscape can be traced in part through literature such as the Longman English Heritage series published in 1929 and also the enormous legacy of the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.
The present work relates directly to no. 354 in Bells raisonné, also of Primroses, painted in 1950, the year that he was formally separated from his second wife, Patricia Preece, and also the death of his first, Hilda. Spencers still life paintings, or perhaps more accurately, his still-life-in-landscape paintings (see Bell Op.Cit. p.295) were painted à plein air, and the subjects therefore were very much dependent on the seasons. In his later years Spencer painted many intimate garden scenes for his friends and fellow residents in Cookham, and it was to one such friend that the present work was gifted.
As with his imaginative work, these paintings are equally rooted in his love of Cookham, whose domestic landscape and surrounding countryside inspired him from a very young age. As a boy, Spencer enjoyed catching a glimpse of the gardens of his more up class neighbours, recalling how he used to peep through chinks and cracks in fences and catch glimpses of these gardens of Eden. (Tate Gallery archive 733.2.87 (1941)). Among other things, the landscape and still life paintings provide an excellent opportunity to see Spencers mesmerising technique and critical powers of observation, as the present work aptly demonstrates. His technique follows in the great tradition of the Pre-Raphaelite painters before him who equally painted nature with a near pantheistic fervour.
The extreme care taken by Spencer to paint nature with such exactitude and precision as his Pre-Raphaelite forbearers was commented on by a critic at the 1936 Tooths exhibition who wrote, Personally I think Spencer is in the tradition of British Pre-Raphaelitism. . .the poetic naturalistic kind of Hunt, Brown and the young Millais. Spencer paints landscape as they did, not so minutely of course, but with the same prodigious delight in all the facts of nature for their own sake. He loves to paint nettles and grasses leaf by leaf, blade by blade, as they did. He loves it all too much to leave anything out. (see Bell Op.Cit. p.179)
We are grateful to Professor Keith Bell for his assistance in authenticating this lot.