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    Sale 13100

    Defining British Art Evening Sale

    30 June 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 3

    Sir Stanley Spencer, R.A. (1891-1959)

    The Garage

    Price Realised  


    Sir Stanley Spencer, R.A. (1891-1959)
    The Garage
    oil on canvas
    40 x 60 in. (101.6 x 155 cm.)
    Painted in 1929.

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    In 1929, Spencer received a commission from the Empire Marketing Board, or EMB, for a series of designs on the theme of Industry and Peace, intended to be made into posters and displayed in cities and towns around Britain and throughout the Empire. The EMB had been established in 1926 by the Colonial Secretary, Leo Amery, to promote intra-Empire trade and to persuade the public to ‘Buy Empire’. In addition to Spencer, the board engaged talented artists like Charles Pears and Frank Newbold and established a film unit led by the documentary film-maker John Grierson to provide the visual side of the campaign. It is not entirely clear why Spencer was invited to participate in this project, although by 1929 his reputation as an artist was firmly established. His large, one-man exhibition at the Goupil Gallery in March, 1927 had been a great critical and financial success, culminating in the sale of The Resurrection, Cookham, to Tate Gallery for £1000. Spencer was also in the middle of work on the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere (completed in 1932), where the extensive painting series on the side walls of the interior clearly indicated his skills as a creator of contemporary narrative subjects on a substantial scale.

    Although the Burghclere project took up most of his time and creative energy, Spencer accepted the EMB commission, quickly producing two alternative drawing schemes, each twelve feet long. One of these was rejected by the EMB and the other was modified at their request, being broken down into five separate panels, designed to fit specially modified display boards. Spencer later told his friend and patron, Mary Behrend (draft letter, Tate Archives, London, 733.3.175) that the rejected scheme, which the artist preferred, showed ‘people lying about in a meadow by a river’. This study was almost certainly re-used, perhaps in part for a painting called By the River (1935, University College, London).

    The five paintings commissioned by the EMB were completed and delivered in the short span of seven weeks. Spencer was eventually paid for the work, but posters based on the paintings were never published. He later found the paintings stored in a ‘dirty’ warehouse, from which they were recovered by his patron, Sir Edward Beddington-Behrens, who purchased them for £300, thereby reimbursing the Treasury for the fee Spencer had received.

    The paintings, which were originally intended to be seen together, consisted of three central panels mounted side by side - The Hat Stand, The Anthracite Stove, and Cutting the Cloth - and two separate outer panels, The Art Class, on the left, and the present painting, The Garage, on the right. When the paintings were sold, the three central panels passed into the Wilfrid Evill collection, and The Art Class and The Garage were sold separately. The latter was acquired by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, together with a pencil-and-wash design, Study for the Garage, circa 1928. Since then, the series has only been exhibited together once, at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1980 (numbers 124-128).

    In 1937, Spencer wrote a commentary on the paintings: ‘I decided that the whole scheme should consist of a long sort of room where people gathered together as people visiting some Eastern town might have gathered together… in some sort of caravanserai. To give the impression of a kind of communion of life and people from a variety of callings, trades and professions …. ’ The Garage shows a workshop interior ‘in which can be seen the bonnet of a car being lifted, two men putting a tyre on a wheel, and a man sorting out old tyres …. ’ (Tate Archives, London, 733-3-1).

    By more than coincidence, Spencer had recently purchased a car, his first, to facilitate travel with his family between Cookham and Burghclere, and this was probably one source of inspiration for the painting. Flashy new advertising posters for cars and automotive products may also have caught his attention. Like other artists of his generation, especially those who had fought in the war and had later been employed as official war artists, the brutal subject matter of weapons and soldiers had caused them to pay new attention to the often catastrophic contexts of a machine-driven world, a far cry from the pastoral subjects they had addressed in the immediate pre-war years. Works like La Mitrailleuse by the Futurist artist C.R.W. Nevinson (1915, Tate Gallery, London) and his Building Aircraft: Assembling Parts (lithograph, 1917) show the impact of mechanisation, both at the front and at home.

    Spencer’s world view and his art were transformed by his wartime service, first as an orderly at Beaufort War Hospital, Bristol, and later as a private in the Berkshire Regiment in Macedonia. But unlike his peers, Spencer sought to address these experiences, by depicting moments of peace in the interstices of action, creating images that were very different from his earlier religious scenes in Cookham. Whereas previously the influences of early Italian art and English artists such as William Blake had predominated, now he pursued a characteristically original and idiosyncratic engagement with contemporary life. This substantial shift in his subject matter was reflected at Burghclere in paintings such as Sorting and Moving Kit Bags and Filling Tea Urns, which revealed the usually invisible parts of institutional labour in the dark corridors and bleak functional rooms of the Beaufort Hospital. Here, the orderlies and the original inmates (in peacetime, Beaufort was a psychiatric institution) laboured.

    Given that Spencer was in the middle of the Burghclere project when he took on the EMB commission, it is not surprising that his intense new focus on the contemporary world shaped his approach to the series. This is very evident in The Garage, arguably the most successful of the five paintings. In the refuge of a darkened interior, people are shown totally absorbed in their individual activities in and around the abstract but strangely animated forms of car tyres, partly dismembered vehicle bodies and spread-out maps. In both subject matter and composition, The Garage bears a striking resemblance to the celebrated paintings on the lower register of the Burghclere Chapel side walls, notably Filling the Tea Urns.

    The Garage is among the first of Spencer’s scenes of labour and industry, a fascinating aspect of his art that merits an exhibition of its own. Later works addressing these themes include, among others, two small studies, Builders of the Tower of Babel and Making Columns for the Tower of Babel (both 1933, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) for a rejected design for the University Library, Cambridge; two paintings commissioned by a building contractor, Workmen in the House (private collection) and The Builders (Yale University Art Gallery), both 1935; and, ultimately, the Shipbuilding on the Clyde series of eight scenes of Lithgow’s shipyards in Port Glasgow (1940-46, Imperial War Museum, London), painted for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. As an early step in this evolution, The Garage speaks to Spencer’s pre-eminence as a painter of industrial subjects- an important but, to date, under-acknowledged contribution to British art in the inter-war years.

    We are very grateful to Professor Keith Bell for preparing this catalogue entry.

    Special Notice

    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


    Commissioned by the Empire Marketing Board, London, 1929.
    Purchased from the above by Sir Edward Beddington-Behrens, circa 1932.
    Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 6 April 1960, lot 98.
    Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.
    The National Motor Museum Trust; Sotheby’s, London, 23 June 1999, lot 41, where purchased by the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text



    D. Robinson, Stanley Spencer, Oxford, 1990, p. 92, the series referenced.
    K. Pople, Stanley Spencer, A Biography, London, 1991, pp. 272, 411, the series referenced.
    K. Bell, Stanley Spencer, A Complete Catalogue of Paintings, London, 1992, pp. 74-75, 418, no. 128e, illustrated.
    A. Causey, Stanley Spencer Art as a Mirror of Himself, Farnham, 2014, pp. 110, 111, 187, illustrated.


    London, Tate Gallery, on loan, 1939-1945.
    Cookham, Stanley Spencer Gallery, 1967, no. 14.
    London, Royal Academy, Stanley Spencer, R.A., September - December 1980, no. 128, pp. 117-118, illustrated.
    Beaulieu, National Motor Museum, on long term loan, 1970-1999.
    London, Tate Gallery, various loans, 2000-2010.
    London, Tate Gallery, Stanley Spencer, March - June 2001, no. 41: this exhibition travelled to Ontario Art Gallery, September - December 2001; and Belfast, Ulster Museum, January - April 2002, pp. 130-131, illustrated.
    Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Stanley Spencer: Love, Desire, Faith, June - October 2002, no. 13, pp. 34-35, illustrated.
    London, Royal Academy of Arts, Pre-Raphaelite and Other Masters: The Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection, September - December 2003, no. 279, p. 286, illustrated.
    Cookham, Stanley Spencer Gallery, Stanley Spencer: Profit of Love and Work, March - November 2008, no. 7, p. 6.
    Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Stanley Spencer Between Heaven and Earth, September 2011 - January 2012, exhibition not numbered, pp. 134-135, illustrated.
    Manchester, City Art Gallery, Everything’s Inevitable: Works from the collection of Manchester Art Gallery selected by Des Hughes, March 2012 - March 2013, exhibition not numbered.
    Cookham, Stanley Spencer Gallery, Perspectives on Love, March - November 2013, no. 10, pp. 20-21, illustrated.
    Cookham, Stanley Spencer Gallery, Paradise Regained: Spencer in the Aftermath of the First World War, April - November 2014, pp. 18, 19, illustrated.
    Cookham, Stanley Spencer Gallery, Creative Genius of Stanley Spencer, Celebrated Northern Collections Come to Spencer's Cookham, April 2015 - March 2016, no. 29, pp. 46-47, illustrated.
    Cookham, Stanley Spencer Gallery, on long term loan.

    The Garage has been requested for loan to the following exhibitions:
    Wakefield, Hepworth Wakefield, Stanley Spencer: Of Angels and Dirt, 25 June - 5 October 2016.
    Hastings, Jerwood Gallery, In Focus Stanley Spencer - A Panorama of Life, 15 October - 8 January 2017.