Joachim was the father of the Virgin Mary and stories about him are told in the apocryphal 'Infancy Gospels'. In 1911 Spencer's friends and fellow Slade students Gwen (1885-1957) and Jacques Raverat (1885-1925) gave him Giotto and his Works In Padua (published 1854) by John Ruskin (1819-1900). Spencer was greatly inspired by its illustrations of the frescoes in the Arena Chapel at Padua, and by the text accompanying the woodcut of Joachim retires to the Sheepfold:
Then Joachim, in the following night, resolved to separate himself from companionship; to go to the desert places among the mountains, with his flocks; and to inhabit those mountains, in order not to hear such insults. And immediately Joachim rose from his bed, and called about him all his servant and shepherds, and caused to be gathered together all his flocks
and went with them and with the shepherds into the hills. (E.T. Cook & A. Wedderburn (eds.), The Works of John Ruskin, London 1903-12, XXIV, p.50)
I liked to take my thoughts for a walk and marry them to some place in Cookham. The 'bread and cheese' hedge up the Strand ash-path was the successful suitor. There was another hedge going away at right angles from the path and this was where the shepherds seemed to be. We had to walk single-file along this path and the shadows romped about in the hedge alongside of us. And I liked the hemmed-in restricted area feeling in that open land
(Richard Carline, Stanley Spencer at War, London 1978, p.28)
Emotionally the path seems to have held a memory of a specific moment when 'the shadows romped about us', the 'us' presumably being Spencer and his family. Their fellowship and warmth may have been analogous in his mind when considering Joachim and the shepherds. Spencer's description also mentions his strong delight in form, and his lifelong fascination with barriers and boundaries. Many of his early pictures have retaining, curving walls, fences or hedges, over which the high perspective allows us to see, and these are also a typical feature of Giotto's designs. As a child Spencer imagined what might lie behind the high walls of Cookham. Penetrating such 'secret' gardens might be seen as a rediscovery or reclaiming of Eden.
Spencer made Study for 'Joachim among the Shepherds' in Cookham, after he had finished studying at the Slade School of Art, probably in September of 1912. It was in that month that he wrote to the Raverats 'Joachim is going to be very good & so's the shepherds', and illustrated the watercolour composition in the letter (Tate Archive 8116.12). The watercolour was the first treatment of a subject for which, in 1913, he made a version in oils, albeit with an adapted composition (National Art Gallery & Museum, Wellington).
Timothy Hyman and Patrick Wright (eds.), Stanley Spencer, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain 2001, no.5, reproduced in colour
Stanley Spencer: A Sort of Heaven, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 1992, p.26-7, reproduced in colour
Stanley Spencer RA, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1980, no.11, reproduced
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T00048 STUDY FOR JOACHIM AMONG THE SHEPHERDS 1912
Inscr. ‘S. Spencer 1912’ b.r.
Pen, pencil and wash, 16×14 5/8 (40·5×37), on sheet 22 1/8×15 (56·25×38).
Chantrey Purchase from Miss Lillian Browse 1955.
Coll: Sir Cyril Kendall Butler, from whom purchased by Miss Lillian Browse in 1940.
Exh: N.E.A.C., winter 1912 (5), as ‘Joachim among the sheepcotes’; British Painting since Whistler, National Gallery, 1940 (326), as ‘Joachim among the Shepherds’; Temple Newsam, Leeds, July–September 1947 (76); British Council, Contemporary British Paintings and Drawings, South Africa, 1947–8 (108); Arts Council, 1955 (15); R.A., 1956 (690).
Lit: John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters: Lewis to Moore, 1956, p.175; Collis, 1962, pp.26–7, 243.
Repr: Wilenski, 1924, pl.31; Rothenstein, 1945, pl.4; Michael Ayrton, British Drawings, 1946, pl.40, facing p. 41 (in colour).
There are slight pencil sketches for the heads of the figures below the main drawing, which is a detailed study for the painting of ‘Joachim among the Shepherds’ owned by J.L. Behrend. It was painted in 1912, soon after the artist left the Slade School, and was influenced by Ruskin's book on the Arena Chapel, Giotto and his Works in Padua, given to him by Gwen and Jacques Raverat. The incident is seen in the setting of everyday Cookham.
In the Cook and Wedderburn edition of Ruskin's Works, XXIV, p. 50, against the Dalziel woodcut after Giotto's ‘Joachim retires to the Sheepfold’ appears the following quotation: ‘Then Joachim, in the following night, resolved to separate himself from companionship; to go to the desert places among the mountains, with his flocks; and to inhabit those mountains, in order not to hear such insults. And immediately Joachim rose from his bed, and called about him all his servants and shepherds, and caused to be gathered together all his flocks,... and went with them and with the shepherds into the hills...’
The drawing differs from the finished oil painting in several respects, since in the latter the figure of Joachim on the right has been brought to the foreground of the composition and the landscape vista eliminated, leaving instead a closed arch of foliage. The trellis also is omitted. The shepherds are in roughly the same postures in both designs, but the farthest man is shown bareheaded in the final painting. Joachim holds a sheep, and the one originally in the foreground has been taken out.
A watercolour, 7 5/8×4 5/8 in., showing the three foreground figures to the left of the main composition, was sold at Sotheby's, 4 November 1959 (4), and bought by David Gibbs.
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II