Seeing so much death and destruction, losing so many friends and loved ones, including his brother Sydney, left Spencer with an almost frantic longing for a return to peace, tranquillity, and perhaps even innocence. It was this same impulse in a contemporary and fellow survivor that brought the world the tales of a little boy and his charming toy bear, A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories which captivated and delighted a world sick of death and wondering what it was all for. The children's tales – and many of Spencer's paintings from between the wars – gave them an answer that many were more than happy to accept.
Tree and Chicken Coops, Wangford, offers the same sort of reminder of happier days gone by, when there was nothing more to fret about than feeding the chickens, collecting the eggs, and, perhaps, finding time to climb a handy tree before being summoned inside for dinner. England between the wars was a place and time almost of convalescence, when society, status, history itself had been turned inside out and all but destroyed. It was up to those young people who had made it through to start again, to rebuild the population, the towns, and the country's fortunes. They were not to know that this new promise was a false one, and that forces, never completely subdued, had begun to build from the moment the Treaty of Versailles brought an end to the years of bloodshed.
The painting, as so many of Spencer's, is deceptively simple, a snapshot of a peaceful rural scene containing, as the title proclaims, a tree and some chicken coops. The colouration of the landscape is, as always, accurately rendered, while the style is half-realistic and half-stylised. Sunshine plays on the ground, highlighting the gorse and the scrubby turf, while a rustic fence – roughly made and yet sufficient to the task at hand – shows the duty of care offered to the domesticated birds. If there is menace in the image, it is in the sky, which is overcast but with a pinkish tinge that seems to speak of the recent bloody past, and perhaps foreshadow the events all too soon to pitch the country back into war. The painting, in oil on canvas, is in the hands of the Tate Gallery, but is not currently on display.