The village of Cookham, 30 miles west of London, lies along the river Thames in a bucolic setting of marsh meadows, bridges and reedy riverbanks. It was here that British artist Stanley Spencer was born in 1891, and it was here that he lived until his death in 1959. It was here, too, that the celebrated visionary absorbed the ideas and images that would lead him to create some of the most impassioned and astonishingly original paintings of this century. A major exhibition of Spencer's work has recently begun a three city tour at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. On view there through January 11, 1998, the show features biblical and allegorical works, domestic scenes, nudes and landscapes that span five decades of the artist's career, starting with the 1914 self portrait. "Spencer produced some of this century's most powerful representations of the figure," says Hirshhorn director James Demetrion. "His vision is unique in 20th century art."