I like The Scarecrow, Cookham (1934). The Royal Academy rejected two of his paintings before accepting this one; his consequent resignation challenged the Academy's attitude to modern art. Spencer painted from what he knew and he said of this scarecrow, 'Left and deserted as it was, it seemed daily to become more a part of its surroundings. In the evening he faded into the gloaming like a Cheshire cat.'
Far more stylised, Wisteria at Englefield (1954) is full of exquisite, painstaking detail. It apparently took him five weeks to create this stunningly realistic image of chestnut, wisteria and ceanothus both highlighting and obscuring the red brickwork of Englefield House.
The Gallery also includes studies for the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere. This chapel was built specifically to house Spencer's war paintings - arguably his finest achievement. I particularly like Map Reading, in which an officer consults his orders and map while the men rest during a pause on a route march, and Bedmaking, as seen by Spencer at a hospital ward where he was ent to recover from malaria.
Other paintings in the series include such commonplace activities as filling the tea urns, washing and shaving, eating bread and jam, sorting the laundry, scrubbing the floor, and filling water bottles. The pictures capture the camaraderie and companionship of the men rather than the horrors of war.
Before going home I went for a walk through the village with its intricately tiled roofs, large green and friendly pub, then I strode through through brick alleyways and across fields of wheat and stubble accomapnied overhead by wheeling red kites. Sir Stanley Spencer described Cookham as 'a village in heaven' - indeed, if there are villages in heaven, they look like this.