Bellrope Meadow oil on canvas 40.5 x 45.5 cm. (16 x 18 in.) Painted circa 1914
PROVENANCE: Percy Julius Spencer Thence by family descent
This painting and lot 41, Black Butts, were either given or sold to Spencer's brother Percy, probably before the artist enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1915. Spencer records the two works at least twice in a series of lists made some years later and now housed in the Tate Gallery Archives. In the first of these, under "Landscapes in Oils" (Tate 733-3-11), Spencer noted "Cookham Meadow to P. J. Spencer," undoubtedly a reference to the present work. And in another list (Tate 733 3 12) recording early drawing and paintings by date, Spencer noted "Meadow" under "Landscape[s]" for 1914, again a clear reference to the present painting and confirming the suggested "c1914" date on the typed paper label attached to the stretcher on the verso.
These two paintings together with Cookham (Tullie House, City Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle), also painted in 1914 and purchased that year by Eddie (later Sir Edward) Marsh were probably the artist's earliest pure landscape works in oils. (An important early patron, Marsh also purchased Spencer's Self-Portrait (1914, Tate Gallery) and Apple Gatherers (1912-13, Tate Gallery.) While Marsh's Cookham went on to become the most frequently exhibited of Spencer's early landscapes, Bellrope Meadow and Black Butts were never shown in the larger Spencer exhibitions and were perhaps only once (as the typed notes on the stretchers may indicate) exhibited in Cookham. Consequently, they disappeared from the record, remaining out of sight until the present sale.
Spencer had begun making pen-and-ink landscape drawings of the environs of Cookham as early as circa 1905, one of which he recorded in a list (733-3-45, circa1945) as "15. Meadow, Willow, Stream and Footbridge" (whereabouts unknown). This study was followed by others, including Cockmarsh from the Hill and Rowborough and Top of Cockmarsh Hill (Tate 733-3-45, both circa 1906-07), subjects he would return to later in a number of landscape paintings. More importantly, Spencer was already setting his figurative oils in carefully realized Cookham landscapes: The Nativity (1912, Slade School of Fine Art), a view towards Sir George Young's estate, and John Donne Arriving in Heaven (1911, Private Collection), set on Widbrook Common. On occasion, the composition of these paintings would involve studies for the landscape portions, as in the case of Zacarias and Elizabeth (1914, Tate Gallery), where Spencer made an oil study for the upper central landscape background (1914, Private Collection. See Keith Bell, Stanley Spencer R.A., Royal Academy of Arts, 1980, cat.no.20, ill.). It was in the middle of these and similar substantial projects that Spencer found time to paint Bellrope Meadow, Black Butts, and Marsh's Cookham.
In Bellrope Meadow, Spencer chose a simple view that looks over a crude fence and across a green field to a row of trees, through which further fields and trees can be seen intermittently in the distance. As in Cookham, the bright open green of the field contrasts with the dappled light filtering through the trees and reflecting off the foliage. The scene is prosaic but comfortable. As Spencer subsequently commented on his early work: "The thing which had originally turned me in the direction of wanting to draw and paint was my local surroundings" (Tate 733-3-21). In the same notebook he recalled how, when he had drawn subjects around Cookham, he had been inspired by "sitting among the holly-hocks and runner beans." A similar atmosphere of calm pervades Bellrope Meadow.
We are grateful to Professor Keith Bell for his assistance in cataloguing this work and for compiling the catalogue entry.
Property from The Estate of Miss Pamela Mary Spencer (1924-2012)