The present composition which has not been seen publicly since it's purchase in 1942, was painted at the White Hart Inn, Leonard Stanley, Gloucetershire where Spencer lived with George and Daphne Charlton. Maurice Collis, Spencer's biographer comments, 'One attraction of this remote Gloucestershire village was that their friends Michael Rothenstein (the Tate Director's brother) and his wife Duffy had a house there, and old Sir William Rothenstein, one of Stanley's earliest supporters, lived not far off. Stanley's room at the inn was a front one and contained a piano. He was able to paint large pictures in it. It was also used as as sitting room, where visitors could be entertained and music played. It was a happy time. But, as one who knew him well once said to me, 'The friends in Stanley's life were like people in a play written by himself. They had not much reality for him except as actors in his play. Their true reality he tired of, though his imaginative conception of them he loved' (see M. Collis, Stanley Spencer A Biography, London, 1962, pp. 160-1).
Daphne Charlton was to become a very strong influence on Spencer during the short period between July 1939 and the spring of 1940 when the three lived together. She and Spencer embarked on a passionate affair while George Charlton, also a painter, was away from their company. She stimulated Spencer into painting twenty three pictures, including the famous composition On the Tiger Rug, 1940 (Lord Lloyd Webber Collection) which was sold in these rooms on 6 March 1998 as lot 100, showing them embracing, lying on a tiger-skin rug on the floor of the bedroom that Spencer used as a studio at the White Hart.
Cottage Garden, Leonard Stanley is one of several landscapes which he painted during this chapter of rural retreat, including another picture of the same title (Lord Lloyd Webber Collection); Old Tannery Mills (Birmingham City Art Gallery); Village Life, Gloucestershire (Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum); Landscape, Gloucestershire (private collection); Duck Pond (private collection); Farm Pond, Leonard Stanley (Tate Britain, London); Snowdrops (private collection) and Pullens Farm, Leonard Stanley (not traced). The heightened viewpoint and slightly distended perspective seen in Cottage Garden, Leonard Stanley shows off a riot of enlarged daisies and dandelions on the lawn, with primula, hyacinth, tulip and daffodils in the circular centre bed and surrounding raised border. The choice of flowers would suggest that the picture was painted in April or thereabouts. The tops of the garden railings which are just visible in the foreground are very similar to those seen in Gardens in the Pound, Cookham, 1936 (Leeds City Art Gallery).
Discussing Spencer's subjects of this period the critic Eric Newton wrote a few years later, 'He is interested in things for their own sake, not for what they look like under certain conditions. He is not at all interested in the envelope of light and air that surrounds them, that envelope so dear to the Impressionists. Therefore, he tends to accumulate objects in his pictures, to relate them to each other dramatically rather than visually, and, above all, to paint them in sharp, harsh definition, as though he were more concerned with their nature than their appearance ... To those who regard painting as a kind of confectionery and love it for its sensuous qualities, Spencer is bound to be an unsympathetic painter. His paint is hard and unluscious. There is something dogged and joyless in the superb confidence with which he applies it, as though he were transferring, by some mechanical process, an image from his mind's retina to his canvas. Renoir (to take the opposite extreme) caresses his picture into life: Spencer builds his up like a bricklayer ... A lesser artist would have gone to nature for help, and nature would have betryed him. His picture's imaginative temperament would have dropped. Spencer knows that anatomical accuracy can never be a satisfactory substitute for imaginative integrity' (see E. Newton, Stanley Spencer, Harmondsworth, 1947, pp. 12-13).
The original purchaser of the picture, Arthur, 7th Earl Castle Stewart, married Eleanor, daughter of Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1920 and the picture, which has never been exhibited, has passed by descent.