Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta (unfinished) by Stanley Spencer

Spencer was working on Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta when he died in 1959. It had been commissioned by Lord Astor who was a Trustee of the Gallery. Since his death his son has taken over from him. The picture was intended to be for the central alterpiece section of the so called 'river aisle' in the Church House. This was to celebrate another part of the village, in this case the river, and was based on Spencer's memories of the annual Regatta at Cookham on Edwardian Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta days. In the painting Spencer imagined the Regatta transformed into the Last Day on which Christ and his disciples visit the newly redeemed village. The scene is based on memories of the concert put on by the artist's brother, Will, and others, who sang popular songs from the barge at the end of the Regatta. Those who owned boats would crowd about the barge. Others, including the artist, his brother Gilbert and his sister Annie, would listen from the river bank or Cookham Bridge. In a letter to Hilda in 1953, Spencer recalled that the family could not afford a punt, so that to do so seemed to him like "an unattainable Eden". In the foreground, carrying assorted oars and mops, is Mr Turk, the owner of Turk's Boatyard. Two scenes in the unpainted upper left of the canvas were also painted as independent pictures in the Regatta series, Listening from Punts and Punts on the River 1950. (

Spencer did not live to complete this last major work, which he planned as the central picture in the river aisle of his 'Church House'. In a natural link between Cookham and religion, Christ preaches at the regatta the artist recalled from his boyhood. Sitting in the centre in a basket chair in the old horse ferry barge, by the Ferry Hotel near Cookham Bridge, Christ preaches to the assembled villagers. Mr Turk, in centre foreground, brandishes an impressive array of boating equipment. Dressed in holiday outfits the crowd sport the Chinese lanterns which illuminated the boats in the evening. Class distinctions between the people in boats and those who had to make do on the bank are nicely maintained. The luxury of a punt, unknown in the Spencer family, seemed to the artist 'an unattainable Eden'. Spencer wrote in a letter of the contrast between Christ and 'the stalwart, prosperous, white-trousered proprietor of the Hotel' surveying the profitable scene from his lawn. Sixty chalk drawings made in 1952 form the basis of the present picture, which displays Spencer's skill in composing complex figure subjects. The studies were transferred to canvas to create an outline drawing of great beauty. As the partially completed picture shows, Spencer painted one area before starting the next. He worked with his usual small brushes, his nose almost touching the paint. ( website/collection/christpreachingatcookhamregatta.html)
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Media: oil on canvas

This artwork is in 1 room