Property from The Estate of Miss Pamela Mary Spencer (1924-2012)
Sir Stanley Spencer R.A. (British, 1891-1959)
Black Butts oil on canvas 45.5 x 30.5 cm. (18 x 12 in.) Painted circa 1914
PROVENANCE: Percy Julius Spencer Thence by family descent
This painting, together with lot 39, Bellrope Meadow, was either given or sold to the artist's brother Percy, probably some time before Spencer joined the R.A.M.C. in July, 1915. The painting is recorded in a later list of "Landscapes in oils" made by the artist (Tate 733-3-11, Tate Gallery Archives), in which he refers to the painting as "Cookham Back Lane" and states that the work was in the possession of "P. J. Spencer." In another list of "Landscapes" (Tate 733-3-12), Spencer refers to a painting he calls "Elm Tree," which he dates to 1914. The painting is listed together with another work referred to as "Meadow," which is clearly Bellrope Meadow, lot 39.
Spencer often used shorthand titles in his painting lists, for example, "Bed Picture" for The Centurion's Servant (1914, Collection Tate Gallery) and "Zacarias" for Zacarias and Elizabeth (1914, Collection, Tate Gallery). The title Black Butts is probably the original one and refers to the subject of the painting, which is identified in the typed note attached to the stretcher and frame:
'This lane lies beyond an orchard behind the artist's birthplace ["Fernlea" in Cookham]. The scene is about the site of the village archery ground hence the name.'
The typed note also situates the present work in the context of two other contemporary landscapes, describing it as 'One of three pictures representing a brief phase of the artist's work, the other two being Bellrope Meadow (lot 39) and a landscape in the collection of the late Sir Edward Marsh.'
The last mentioned work is undoubtedly Cookham (Tullie House, City Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle), purchased by Marsh from Spencer in 1914. According to Spencer's brother-in-law, Richard Carline (1896-1980), the artist thought that Cookham was the most successful of his early works. Certainly the elevated viewpoint of that painting differs from both Black Butts and Bellrope Meadow. Yet all three share a carefully observed naturalism, also to be found in the landscape settings of Spencer's early figure paintings, that would form the foundation of his mature landscape style.
Spencer's interest in the landscape of Cookham and the surrounding countryside was rooted in his childhood experiences, further encouraged by the presence of a number of views of the village painted by the local artists William Bailey and Fred Walker, and he began to make his own youthful pen-and-ink studies of similar subjects some time around 1905. By the time Spencer painted the present picture, he had attended the Slade School (1908-12) and had begun to work in a more sophisticated manner. All the same, his paintings, like those of his brother Gilbert, remained deeply rooted in the English tradition, and he continued to be mainly concerned with depicting his immediate surroundings, only occasionally painting elsewhere, for example at Clayhayden, Devon (four watercolours) in 1911.
The reappearance of Black Butts and Bellrope Meadow after years out of the public view presents an important opportunity to observe the young Spencer executing his first pure landscape oil paintings, at a time when he was also producing some of his finest figurative work.
We are grateful to Professor Keith Bell for his assistance in cataloguing this work and for compiling the catalogue entry.