Painting by the Thames
Swan Upping at Cookham
7 Nov – 22 March 2020

This winter the Stanley Spencer Gallery will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the completion of one of the artist’s most famous paintings.’Swan Upping at Cookham’,1915-1919, was inspired by the sounds Stanley Spencer heard from Holy Trinity Church as Cookham villagers made their way down to the River Thames flowing nearby. He had drawn up detailed sketches of the imagined scene in 1915, but was only half-way through the oil painting when forced to leave the village to serve in The Great War.  On returning at the end of the conflict Spencer’s dream was to finish the work.  This he achieved in 1919 – one hundred years ago. The thought of it waiting in his bedroom in Cookham High Street gave him strength and comfort on the battlefields of Macedonia.

The title of the painting refers to the ancient ritual of Swan Upping which takes place each July when swans and their cygnets are lifted from the river and marked to show ownership by either the Vintners or Dyers Companies.  All unmarked swans belong to the Queen.

Tate have loaned this masterpiece to the Cookham Gallery from Nov 7 2019 – March 22nd 2020, and as the focal point of the exhibition it will hang beside many other Spencer works relating to the river including a little seen study (now in private hands).

Swan Upping at Cookham (1915-1919)

Stanley Spencer is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest British artists.  He is known for his individuality and uniqueness.  His work encompasses many subjects and styles and much came directly from his fertile imagination.


Swan Upping at Cookham is one of his visionary works. He imagined the whole scene,  and only once his studies had been completed did he go to the actual site of the work under Cookham Bridge over the Thames to check the accuracy of his memory.

This exhibition will encourage closer study of his magnificent work with details highlighted  for you to enjoy.