Sir Stanley Spencer

The Bridge

1920

In Tate Britain

Artist
Sir Stanley Spencer 1891–1959
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1213 × 1226 mm
frame: 1420 × 1440 × 100 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Art Fund 1942
Reference
N05393

Display caption

Spencer’s paintings often have a strong sense of narrative even if it is not clear exactly what is taking place. The people on the bridge here are probably watching a boat race. They face in different directions, perhaps because a boat has just passed under the bridge. Spencer’s work frequently combined real and imagined elements. The bridge is an invented stone version of Cookham’s cast-iron bridge. However, the dog in the foreground is a specific animal the artist knew, the pet of a local resident who had taught Spencer to swim.

Gallery label, October 2020

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Catalogue entry

N05393 THE BRIDGE 1920

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 47 3/4×48 1/4 (121·5×122·5).
Presented by the National Art-Collections Fund 1942.
Coll: Purchased by the N.A.C.F. from the Leicester Galleries 1942.
Exh: Leicester Galleries, November 1942 (26), as 1919.
Lit: Spencer, 1961, p.158.
Repr: Exh. cat., Stanley Spencer Gallery, summer 1963, on cover.

According to the artist (letter of 15 August 1951) this picture was painted in 1920, although in the Leicester Galleries exhibition catalogue of 1942 it is dated 1919. Gilbert Spencer (op. cit.) refers to this work as one of the last to be painted at ‘Fernlea’, Cookham, until Stanley's return there in 1959. He also notes that it seemed to him an ‘unCookhamish’ subject, which he could not identify and that he never knew its correct title. He pointed out to the compiler (26 October 1961) that the quatrefoil stone balustrades were a transcription of a detail from the cast-iron bridge at Cookham which appears in ‘Swan Upping’, and he thought the apparent aimlessness of the people on the bridge untypical of the artist's usual conception of a figure subject. The Airedale terrier dog in the foreground is ‘Tinker’, and belonged to a Cookham man, Guy Lacey, who taught the Spencer brothers to swim. One explanation of the subject that suggests itself is that the people on the bridge are watching a sculling race on the river, the boats having just passed under the bridge, and that the spectators are moving from one side of the bridge to the other to follow the progress of the race. See also the drawing N05775.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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