Winter Aconites oil on panel 35.5 x 25.4 cm. (14 x 10 in.) Painted in 1957
PROVENANCE: The Rev. Canon and Mrs. Westropp Thence by family descent
EXHIBITED: Cookham, Church and Vicarage, 1958, cat.no.25 (as Aconites)
LITERATURE: Keith Bell, Stanley Spencer, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Phaidon Press Ltd., London, 1992, p.511, cat.no.429
Commissioned by the Rev. Canon R.M.L. Westropp to give to his wife, Rachel, as a wedding anniversary present in 1957. The picture was painted in the grounds of the Westropps' home, Cookham Vicarage, on the Long Walk to the river. The following year, Spencer also painted two scenes of the nearby churchyard: The Churchyard, Cookham (the artist called it Cow Parsley, Cookham Churchyard) and Clematis in Cookham Churchyard.
From an early stage in his career, Spencer made studies of plants and flowers which he incorporated into his figure paintings, notably Unveiling Cookham War Memorial, 1922; his early masterpiece The Resurrection, Cookham, 1924-6 (Tate) and Hilda with Bluebells, 1955. Flowers also came to form an important part of the increasing number of landscape paintings which Spencer began to produce in the 1920s, for example The Cultivator, 1929; Cottages at Burghclere, 1930 (Fitzwilliam Museum) and Rowborough, Cookham, 1934. At the same time he also began to produce smaller paintings like the present work, where flowers dominated the composition either viewed from immediately above or with a glimpse of the landscape in the background, for example, Magnolias and Winter Violets, both 1938. Some of these were painted on commission or, more commonly, for sale by his dealer Dudley Tooth in London. The paintings, whose subjects followed the seasons, were relatively quick to paint, sold well and could in some cases be painted indoors in the event of bad weather, like Greenhouse and Garden, 1937 (Ferens Art Gallery, Hull).
While Spencer sometimes resented the time it took to paint the popular still life and landscape paintings, he was just as often happy to work on them between sessions on the figure pictures. In the spring of 1938, for example, he wrote to tell Dudley Tooth that Magnolias was "as good as anything I have done," clear evidence of the very real care which he took over these works, which in some cases took several months to complete.
We are grateful to Professor Keith Bell for compiling this catalogue entry.