Cookham Reach and Barley Hill oil on panel 19.3 x 27.2 cm. (7 5/8 x 10 5/8 in.) Painted circa 1920
PROVENANCE: Percy Julius Spencer Thence by family descent
This painting was either given or sold to Spencer's brother Percy and may never have been exhibited. There is a faint pencil inscription on the back of the board, in an unknown hand, which reads 'a very early landscape by Stanley Spencer. Scene of Post-War Resurrection at the lake. It is of Cookham Reach and Barley Hill.' (Cookham Reach is half a mile upstream from Cookham Bridge and is now the site of the Cookham Reach Sailing Club.)
While the other two Spencer landscapes in Percy Spencer's collection (see lots 39 and 41) were painted in 1914, this work probably dates from around 1920, shortly after the artist returned from war service and at a time when he again began to paint landscapes in Cookham and the immediate neighbourhood. In April 1920, Spencer had moved in with Henry (later Sir Henry) Slesser, Solicitor General in the Labour government of the twenties, and his wife, Margaret (the subject of a fine early portrait. See Keith Bell, Stanley Spencer R.A., 1980, cat.no.40, ill.), whom he had met through his friends, the Behrends. On learning that the artist needed a peaceful place to stay and space to work, the Slessers invited him to use their house, "Cornerways," Bourne End, near Cookham.
During his year of residence there, Spencer painted nearly twenty pictures, including The Last Supper (1920, Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham) and a number of small landscapes, notably Bourne End, Looking Towards Marlow (Government Picture Collection). A number of these pictures were painted on small wood panels. As this was the only occasion when Spencer used this support, it provides an indication of the likely date of the present work. The subject matter of the painting also offers another helpful clue. Spencer's room at the Slessers' overlooked the Thames, and he is known to have appreciated the river views. "I liked the shape and colours of the river,' he would write later of the Bourne End painting. 'Having a good time at Slessers.' (Tate 733-3-1).
During this early post-war period, Spencer's painting style changed markedly under the influence of contemporary Modernist English art, and he began to employ broad areas of flatish colour, simplified forms and looser brush strokes. This development is evident, for example, in A Farm in Dorset (1920, Keith Bell, Stanley Spencer R.A. Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, London, 1992, no. 59,p. 401), which was purchased from the artist in 1920 by Sir Henry Slesser. This approach contrasted sharply with the tighter, more detailed technique of Spencer's earlier work, including, for example, Bellrope Meadow and Black Butts (Lots 39 & 41). The new style is clearly apparent in the present painting with its blocked-in trees, the simplified forms of the reeds and the even tones of the sky. As such, Cookham Reach and Barley Hill is an excellent representative of the relatively small group of early landscapes (including a number painted on an expedition to Bosnia in 1922) that Spencer produced during the period 1920-25. Shortly afterwards, he would move to more closely detailed work, painted on canvas and mostly on a larger scale (for example, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cottages at Burghclere, 1930).
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)