Troops in the Countryside (3rd Version) oil on canvas 50.8 x 57.1 cm. (20 x 22 1/2 in.)
PROVENANCE: Private Collection, U.K.
EXHIBITED: London, The Arts Council of Great Britain, A Selection from the Academy, Summer Exhibition 1951, cat.no.44
In 1940, in order to escape the effects of the war on the nation's capital, the Royal College of Art (at which Spencer taught), was evacuated to the Queen's Hotel in Ambleside, Cumbria. Spencer, always most at ease in the countryside took well to this new locale. His output focused on the Lake District landscape and a series of portrait commissions of his hosts and their acquaintances and, despite being acutely aware of the nearby turmoil in the northern cities, he was experiencing the lakes "as Wordsworth had known it" (Gilbert Spencer, Memoirs of a Painter, Chatto & Windus, London, 1974, p.135). He was not, however, entirely removed from the war; in his memoirs from this period he tells how "Spurred on by a talk at the college by an Air Raid Precautions Officer from Liverpool [He] duly reported to the Home Guard" stating that "it was a brilliant stratagem on the part of the government to make us immensely proud of what we were doing!" (Loc.cit).
Gilbert enthuses of the pride derived from having "stormed the heights of Nebscar [which] helped to restore the defenses of Windermere when knocked down by sheep ...[and] shying live hand grenades at the side of Loughrigg' (Loc.cit). His experience provided Spencer with a new subject matter and he painted a series of Home Guard compositions. Now best known are The Home Guard (Imperial War Museum painted by commission of the War Artists Advisory Committee), and most similar to the present work Troops in the Countryside (Bradford Art Gallery and Museums).
Spencer recalls his war and how this was to be interpreted through these paintings; "I thought this war was a very good one. I liked the assertion of peace in it; the soldiers being as peaceful as the cows. It was like what a rabbit might have seen and felt, looking from the field opposite, and would not know the khaki suits, etc. had any other significance than the markings of the cows' (Op.cit).