The Resurrection, Cookham by Stanley Spencer

Stanley Spencer

The Resurrection, Cookham, 1924–27, Oil on canvas, 274.3 x 548.6 cm, Tate; Acquisition Presented by Lord Duveen 1927, N04239, © Estate of Stanley Spencer / Bridgeman Images; © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY

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Resurrection Now

Commentary by
Read by Chloë Reddaway

The Resurrection, Cookham portrays the last day unfolding peacefully in the churchyard of the small Berkshire village that Stanley Spencer called home. No cataclysm here, just ‘the joy of the earth giving birth to joy’, Spencer wrote in a letter to Hilda Carline (1924), as people casually awake from death as if from a night’s sleep.

In the centre, a nude Spencer reclines against his tombstone next to his brother-in-law, Richard Carline, and behind lawyer Henry Slesser, a friend and patron. Two men nearby rise out from under hoods of earth, while a woman in a floral-patterned dress emerges through a parted sea of moon-daisies. To the right, women share notes left on their grave wreaths, while on the far left, the newly risen read their tombstone inscriptions with amusement. Others peek out over the edge of their coffins, or brush dirt clods from each other’s clothes. Spencer’s wife, Hilda, appears three times: clambering onto the deck of a Thames riverboat, sniffing a sunflower (while a prone, tweed-suited Spencer admires her), and lying on a nest of ivy.

The apex of this monumental painting is the rose-bowered porch, under which sits a matronly Christ holding three babies, his hair stroked by God the Father. Their presence is unassuming.

Arising to their new eternal state, the people in The Resurrection, Cookham could well exclaim along with Paul, ‘O death, where is thy sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55), and join in his gratitude. The law, whose tablets Moses displays from his open casket adjacent to the church porch, has no power to condemn (v.56), for Christ has fulfilled every jot and tittle, and these ordinary villagers reap the benefits.

The resurrection of the saints is a topic that fascinated Spencer, and he painted it many times, stressing the continuity between this world and the next. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the interwar period, who inclined toward cynicism or despair, Spencer maintained a profoundly hope-filled religiosity, delighting in the promise of salvation that he saw burning like Moses’s bush from every corner of daily life.



Spencer, Stanley. 1924. ‘Letter to Hilda Carline’, quoted in Stanley Spencer at War by Richard Carline (London: Faber & Faber, 1978) [accessed 14 October 2018]

Ibbett, Victoria. 2016. ‘The theme of resurrection in Stanley Spencer’s work, 28 March 2016’. Art UK [accessed 14 October 2018]

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