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Stanley Spencer's King's Cookham Rise

Stanley Spencer | King’s Cookham Rise, 1947 | 1981.193 | Details, left: infared image; right: ordinary light image

Stanley Spencer (British, 1891–1959). King's Cookham Rise, 1947. Oil on canvas; 20 x 30 in. (50.8 x 76.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1981 (1981.193) © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Stanley Spencer's King's Cookham Rise, depicting a flower garden near his hometown of Cookham, England, came to the studio to be examined and treated in preparation for an exhibition; a non-original varnish that had discolored over time and imparted a yellow cast as well as an overly saturated and glossy appearance was removed. During the course of the technical examination it was discovered that every detail of the dense composition had been painstakingly drawn on the primed canvas prior to the application of the paint. The drawing, which began with outlines, then followed by hatching to indicate areas in shadow, was not intended to be seen but was evidently a crucial creative step for the artist.

Once the drawing was completed, Spencer proceeded in a consistently meticulous manner, re-creating each part of the drawing in paint. He did not work over the entire surface but rather completed one detail at a time.

The results of the examination have led to a broader investigation of Spencer's painting technique and working method, particularly as regards his landscapes. This research involves collaboration with numerous collections and colleagues in the United Kingdom, where the majority of the artist's paintings are located.