In 1954 Spencer was part of the cultural mission to China, one of several artists included in the group. It was a rare experience for Spencer, who rarely visited anywhere outside of Britain, made partly on account of his profound regard for Chinese art and culture. In addition to the present work he painted one other canvas of the Ming tombs outside Peking (see K. Bell, Stanley Spencer A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, London, 1992, p. 504, no. 398).
J.L. Behrend was Spencer's friend and his patron at Burghclere. He owned a large collection of the artist's work, and had been introduced to Spencer by the artist Henry Lamb. The relationship led Louis and Mary Behrend to commission Spencer to undertake the decoration of the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere. Writing in the foreword to the 1962 exhibition catalogue, Eric Newton described the Behrends and their patronage of Spencer as 'one of the bravest and most enlightened acts of patronage that ever happened to the artist ...' (see exhibition catalogue, The J.L. Behrend Collection, London, Leicester Galleries, 1962, p. 45). The Behrends collection included works by other important British artists such as Matthew Smith, Walter Richard Sickert, Victor Pasmore, Duncan Grant and Edward Burra. For further information on Burghclere and the Behrends, see Professor Keith Bell's note to lot 117, 18 June 2008, Simon Sainsbury - The Creation of an English Arcadia.