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Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta (1952-59)

Painting, Oil on canvas (unfinished), 2057mm x 5359mm
Christ preaching at Cookham Regatta

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.

 lent by a private collector