We are delighted to have acquired Patricia at Cockmarsh Hill (1935) thanks to generous support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund and the Friends of the Stanley Spencer Gallery.

This important work encapsulates not only Spencer’s artistic vision, but also captures a moment in time when his life was transformed.

Cookham was central to Spencer’s wellbeing both emotionally and artistically. He considered it to be ‘heaven on earth’ and a place for ‘divine happenings. He had moved away from the village when he was painting his monumental canvases for Sandham Memorial Chapel (1927-32), but at the same time his marriage to Hilda Carline had begun to unravel. During a brief family holiday away from Burghclere, in 1929, he met Patricia Preece in a teashop in Cookham. The artist felt a reconciliation of ‘old feelings’ for Cookham and ‘new feelings’ of exaltation in Patricia who personified his ‘new sexual ideals’. 

In this painting, the Cookham landscape has become a foil for and metaphor of Spencer’s obsession with the sitter.  Spencer had originally intended to paint a larger work, showing Patricia six or eight times in the nude. It is a compositionally captivating work, with the intensity of detail in the foreground gradually paring down to the white sky at the top of the canvas.  Spencer enjoyed to lavish Patricia with gifts, Spencer later writing how the diamonds and amethysts around her neck chimed with the purple thistles in the meadow around her.

Hilda divorced Spencer in 1937, and he married Patricia only days later. The union was doomed from the beginning and while Stanley spent his wedding night with Hilda, Patricia returned to her lifelong friend, Dorothy. Spencer ultimately lost everything, and his inward pain led to a new artistic language in which he tried to comprehend the nature of love, in particular through his searing series The Beatitudes of Love.

The painting is currently on loan to the Charleston exhibition “Dorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece: an Untold Story” in their Lewes exhibition space from 27 March to 8 September 2024.

Dr Scot McKendrick FSA, Chair of Trustees at the Stanley Spencer Gallery said: “We are hugely grateful to the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Art Fund, and for the generous support of all the other funders, for making this important acquisition possible. The Stanley Spencer Gallery holds one of the largest collections of the works of Stanley Spencer. Current and future generations of visitors will be able to enjoy and be inspired by this remarkable painting of Patricia Preece alongside other notable examples of Spencer’s art and in his home village of Cookham.”

The National Heritage Memorial Fund awarded £450,000 towards the acquisition. NHMF Chair, Dr Simon Thurley CBE, said: “I am thrilled that we have been able to support the acquisition of Stanley Spencer’s ‘Patricia at Cockmarsh Hill’. This significant painting can now be brought into the UK public collection, and to Spencer’s home village, allowing visitors to the Stanley Spencer Gallery to enjoy the painting and the story by which it was inspired.”