The Wilson and the Ferrieres Collection

The Wilson Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery
The Wilson
Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery

When I have to travel to meetings in the UK and have an overnight stay, I try and go to local art galleries and see what is on offer.   I am often somewhat disappointed with the collections.  I suppose I expect too much.  It is my own fault.  I should realise I am not going to find a hidden Uffizi or Prado in a provincial town as I am aware that building up an art collection is a costly affair in this day and age.  So, to my great surprise and pleasure, yesterday I discovered a real gem.  I was in Cheltenham for a meeting and had the afternoon free so decided to go and find their art gallery.   It is called The Wilson and it has a small but wonderful collection of paintings many of which are from an era I particularly love – seventeenth and nineteenth Dutch and Flemish works of art.  My blog today is all about the gallery and some of these paintings.

Baron Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres
Baron Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres

For a gallery to become established it obviously needs a collection of paintings and this almost always means it has to have a benefactor who has bequeathed the gallery a large number of works of art.  The regency spa town of Cheltenham and The Wilson had the second Baron de Ferrieres to thank for their foreign painting collection.  He died in Cheltenham in 1864 and left his large art collection to his son the third Baron, Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres, who in 1898 donated forty-three paintings and a sum of £1000 to the town of Cheltenham to set up a gallery to house the works of art, and so it was his generosity that today’s gallery began life and was able to house such a rich collection of work.

Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder
Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder

The first painting I am showcasing is entitled Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder (1807-1868).  Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder was a 19th-century Dutch landscape painter who was born in Middelburg and was the son of the painter, Johannes Hermanus Koekkoek who gave him his early art lessons.  Marinus had two brothers, Barend Cornelis and Hermanus who were also artists.  Koekkoek was primarily based in Hilversum and Amsterdam, where he later died.

Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal by Cornelis Springer
Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal by Cornelis Springer

Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal is another fine example from the Ferriers collection.  It was painted around 1850 by the Dutch landscape artist, Cornelis Springer who was born in Amsterdam in 1817.  Springer became a member of the Amsterdam painters collective Felix Meritis and won a gold medal for a painting of a church interior in 1847. He was the most skilled of the Dutch townscape painters in the nineteenth century.  He consistently strived for topographical accuracy in his townscapes and this he achieved by many hours studying the design plans of the original buildings.  His townscapes have a meticulous style with attention to light and atmospheric conditions.  In this work Springer has somewhat abandoned his normal detailed depiction of the buildings an sought to concentrate the light and atmosphere which makes the depiction more Romantic that topographically correct.

Dutch Street Scene by Adrianus Eversun
Dutch Street Scene by Adrianus Eversun

Adrianus Eversen was a pupil of our previous painter, Cornelis Springer and spent most of his life painting in Amsterdam.  He, like Springer, was known for his townscapes and street scenes.  However, unlike Springer most of his townscapes lacked topographical accuracy.  In his painting, Dutch Street Scene, which he completed in 1858, we see a row of buildings which the artist has depicted with architectural accuracy but the setting was probably just a figment of his imagination rather than a real street.  He completed many paints of this ilk which were simply entitled “Dutch street scenes”.

A fête champêtre was a popular form of entertainment in the 18th century, and took the form of a kind of garden party. This form of entertainment was especially prevalent at the French court where at Versailles large areas of the park were landscaped with follies, pavilions and temples to have the capacity for such revelries.

Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board by Joseph le Roy
Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board by Joseph le Roy

The term fête champêtre comes from the French expression for a “pastoral festival” or “country feast” and this may be construed as being a simplistic form of entertainment, but in the eighteenth century, a fête champêtre was usually a very graceful and stylish form of entertainment which would sometimes involve whole orchestras hidden from sight amongst the trees and participants would be in fancy dress.  Joseph Anne Jules Le Roy (1853-1922), the Parisian-born painter, was a specialist in military scenes and animals and in this painting of his we see those two themes.  In his painting, Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board we see depicted the fête champêtre in the grand manner with the people dressed in Flemish seventeenth century costumes.

Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering) by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1721)
Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering) by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1721)

This was different to the sumptuous costumes depicted by the French artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau’s in his 1721 painting, Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering). 

A Flemish Fair by of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh
A Flemish Fair by of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh

The next painting which is also part of the Ferrieres Collection comes from an earlier period.  This is thought to be a late sixteenth century work and is attributed to Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh.  He was a Dutch Renaissance painter who was born in Leiden in 1537 and died in the same town in 1614.  The work, entitled A Flemish Fair, reminds me of works by one of my favourite artists, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who was a contemporary of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh.  The depiction of fairs in paintings was very popular in the last decade of the sixteenth century.

Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen by Everhardus Koster
Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen by Everhardus Koster

Everhardus Koster (1817-1892) was a Dutch painter who specialized in sea and river scenes.  He studied at Frankfurt-am-Main’s Stadelsches Kunstinstitut and would later become a member of the Amsterdam Academy and for twenty years was the director of Het Pavijoen in Haarlem, he served as Director of the various museums that were formerly housed in the Villa Welgelegen.  One of his paintings, Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen is part of the Ferrieres Collection.

Willem van Mieris (1662-1747) was the most successful genre painter of his generation and a leader of the painters of Leiden. He was a master of cabinet pieces. In this painting, A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern, which is dated 1690, the setting is the interior of an inn.  Van Mieris has meticulously depicted the numerous details of the inn itself as well as the table laden with food.   Not only is this a genre painting but it is also an extremely talented example of a still life featuring a meal of herring and plaice, a bun of bread and the brown German stoneware jug on the table and let’s not forget the authentic portrayal of the hurdy-gurdy. So what is the painting all about?

A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern by Willem van Mieris
A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern by Willem van Mieris

Surrendering to the effects of alcohol he has imbibed, the old hurdy-gurdy player has fallen asleep with his instrument on his lap.  The sleeping musician, a simple beggar, is dressed in rags.  Behind him the female maidservant holds aloft a pouch of money which she may have just taken from the sleeping musician.  She is ecstatic.  Two other tavern revellers look on in the background.  Hurdy-gurdy players were a frequent theme in Dutch peasant painting. They were people who would liven up happy gatherings with the primitive and penetrating sound of their instrument.  Willem shared his liking of depicting lively tavern scenes such as this one with his father Frans van Mieris the Elder. Willem painted several hurdy-gurdy players set in an inn.

The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading by Gerald Gardiner
The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading by Gerald Gardiner

Besides the Dutch and Flemish paintings bequeathed to The Wilson there were some interesting works that the museum had acquired over time.   The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading is a work by Gerald Gardiner.  Gardiner worked at the Cheltenham School of Art teaching drawing and painting from 1927 until his death in 1959.  It is a painting which exudes the quiet domestic atmosphere of life at home.  This work was painted at the Bisley home of Gerald and Evelyn Gardiner and is an example of the artist’s depiction of a night-time scene with his wife enjoying the company of her book, showing up the light, reflections and shadows which are cast by the gas lamp and fire as his wife reads.  It wonderfully encapsulates an atmosphere of domestic bliss and, for us, nostalgia as we see Evelyn reading a book by gas-light in front of the fire. Gardiner was particularly interested in painting night-time scenes and here he balances a powerful composition and the subtle effects of light. Gerald Gardiner was born in 1902. He studied at Beckenham School of Art and the Royal College of Art where he was awarded an Associateship with Distinction in 1926. In 1927 he was appointed second master at the Cheltenham School of Art, in charge of the drawing and painting department, later becoming Painting Master, where he worked until his death

Village Gossip by Stanley Spencer (c.1939)
Village Gossip by Stanley Spencer (c.1939)

Stanley Spencer was one of the most original artists of the modern age and it was good to see one of his works hanging in The Wilson.  Spencer’s paintings have special characteristics; we are urged to work out the story behind each painting and the work on show, Village Gossip is no exception.   It was painted around 1939 whilst he was on holiday in the Gloucestershire village of Leonard Stanley.  I will leave you to work out what you think is going on this painting.  Look at the body language of the woman on the right with her arms tightly folded across her chest.  Look at the accusing stance of the elderly man and woman on the left.  Even the small girl points towards the young man in an accusatory gesture. He bows his head in a somewhat remorseful manner.  What is he being accused of?

There were so many other excellent works of art on show at The Wilson and if ever you are in or around Cheltenham, I urge you to pay it a visit.

Gathering on the Terrace at 47 Downshire Hill, Hampstead by Richard Carline

Gathering on the Terrace at 47 Downshire Hill, (1925) by Richard Carline

If you go back to My Daily Art Display for August 5th and the painting by Sir Stanley Spencer, you will find a mention of Richard Carline, as Spencer married his sister Hilda.   Richard Carline was born in Oxford into a family of artists.  It was an artistically talented family.  Richard Carline’s parents, George and Annie Carline were both artists who married in 1885 and had five children and the three youngest of these Sydney, Hilda and Richard all became respected painters.

Richard Carline’s works included landscapes and portraits, often of his contemporaries.  In 1913 Richard Carline enrolled at the Percyval Tudor-Hart’s Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture, in Paris.  Following a short period teaching, Carline served in World War I where he was appointed an Official War Artist.   Along with his brother he became well-known for his war pictures from the air.   In the 1920’s, the Carlines’ Hampstead home at Downshire Hill became a focus point for artists such as Henry Lamb, John Nash, Stanley Spencer and Mark Gertler who would have regular meetings there to discuss the arts.  It was during this time that Carline was clearly influenced by Stanley Spencer, transforming everyday scenes into something monumental.  Unlike Spencer, Carline achieved this without actually exaggerating figures or their gestures to the degree that Spencer did.  In 1924 he started a five year stint teaching at the Ruskin School of Drawing at Oxford.   His first solo exhibition came about in 1931 at the Goupil Gallery in London.  During the Second World War Carline supervised camouflage of factories and airfields. When the war was over, he was involved in helping to found the Hampstead Artists’ Council in 1944.   In 1946-47 he was appointed as the first Art Counsellor to UNESCO, and from 1955 to 1974 was chief examiner in art for the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.   He also published a number of books including Pictures in the Post: the Story of the Picture Postcard, 1959;  Draw They Must, 1968; and Stanley Spencer at War, 1978.  The latter, I bought off eBay last week !!

Richard Carline died in 1980 aged 84.

The Carline family home, which George and Annie Carline bought in 1916, was 47 Downshire Hill in Hampstead, London and it was here that many artists would meet and discuss art, politics, religion and life in general.   One of the regular visitors, the Australian-born British painter, Henry Lamb,  described the artistic meetings as a veritable cercle pan-artistique.   Many of the group would embark on painting holidays together.

My Daily Art Display featured painting today by Richard Carline, entitled Gathering on the Terrace at 47 Downshire Hill, Hampstead,  shows one such meeting of the Downshire Hill Circle.  The painting was judged as one of Carline’s most impressive works.  Before us we have a group portrait. From left to right we have Stanley Spencer, James Wood, Kate Foster, Hilda Carline (later to become Mrs Stanley Spencer), Henry Lamb, Richard Hartley, Annie Carline and Sydney Carline.   Richard Carline was meticulous in his preparations for this work.  He painted an oil study of each of the group before slotting them into his group portrait.  His 1924 preparatory oil study of Stanley Spencer for this group portrait is also a stand-alone painting of his, entitled Study of Stanley Spencer.  Looking at the study one has to presume that he hadn’t  quite properly calculated the height of the preparatory study as he had to add Spencer’s shoes separately alongside the figure.

What enhances this group painting is the varied but individual characterization of each person.  This was not done by accident as Carline said his intention was to somehow convey the individuality of the people assembled at his parent’s house.  In his own words Carline described the group portrait:

“… [I] sought to convey the conflicting personalities gathered at our house – Stanley [Spencer] peering up and down as he expounded his views on this or that, James Wood hesitating in the doorway whether to come or go, Hilda absorbed in her own thoughts, Hartley sitting at ease, Lamb courteously attentive to my mother, with Sydney always helpful…”

This paintings, Gathering on the Terrace at 47 Downshire Hill, Hampstead , along with the Study of Stanley Spencer, are housed in the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull.  It is a gallery I have never visited but looking at their website it is one I will put down as a “must visit” location.

Finally, I always like to imagine what a place, depicted in a painting, looks like today.  I did this with my entry about Renoir’s boathouse in his painting Luncheon of the Boating Party which I featured in My Daily Art Display of August 2nd, so I wondered what the house at 47 Downshire Hill looks like today.  So below is a picture of it I found of it on the internet!

The present Downshire Hill house and garden

Cottages at Burghclere by Sir Stanley Spencer

Cottages at Burghclere by Sir Stanley Spencer (1930)

On August 5th I featured a painting by Stanley Spencer entitled Double Nude Portrait, which in some ways was a pictorial insight into his life at that time.  For many it was a shocking painting, to others it was a sad realisation as how tormented the artist must have been at that juncture in his life.  Today I am looking at another painting by Spencer,  which could not be more different and which I hope you will like.

For the last two days I have been on my travels visiting my elder daughter who lives in the Derbyshire Peak District and I decided that as I was relatively close to Compton Verney I would call there on my way back home as I knew there was a small exhibition of Stanley Spencer paintings in their galleries.  The title of the exhibition was Stanley Spencer and the English Garden and it is on until October 2nd.  If you get a chance you should try and get there as not only do you have a great selection of paintings, including the Stanley Spencer exhibition, you have the chance to walk around the magnificent grounds of Compton Verney.

Stanley Spencer had served as an orderly with the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War, stationed first at the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol then at the age of 24 he went overseas and served the RAMC in Macedonia in the 68th Field Ambulance unit.  It was whilst there that he transferred into the infantry division of the Berkshire Regiment.  It was during that time that he witnessed horrendous suffering and lost many friends on the field of battle.

After the war Spencer received a commission from Mary and Louis Behrend to paint murals for the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, which had been built as a memorial to Mary’s brother, Lieutenant Henry Willoughby Sandham, who had died at the end of World War I.    He started work on them in 1926 and did not complete the commission until 1932.  The featured painting does not come from the chapel but I will feature some of them at a later date but today’s painting is one which he painted in his spare time when he was at Burghclere.  In some ways I think it may have given Spencer a respite from the memorial paintings and the horrors of war which were relevant to those works.

My Daily Art Display painting for today is entitled Cottages at Burghclere which he painted in 1930 and is owned by the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge but is now part of the Compton Verney exhibition.  In this beautiful painting we see two cottages, one with a thatched roof that is slightly bowed and mirrors the bowing of the side hedges separating it from the other, with its tile-cladded roof and its more modern horizontal wooden-slatted facade.  These two side by side dwellings serve as a contrast between old and new.  Both of the dwellings are almost buried by a profusion of shrubbery.  We have before our eyes a voluptuous excess of summer with gardens full of blooming flowers and bordered by lop-sided topiary.  The small compact gardens are fronted by white picket fences, which struggle to fend off the invading weeds and brambles, which press against them in their attempt to spill over into the manicured gardens.  On one side of the fence we see the dwellers have managed to tame the rampant weeds whilst on the other side of the fence line the weeds are mustering forces to lay siege once again.  It is almost man versus nature.

A white picket fence gate in the left foreground stands ajar as if inviting us in to this garden paradise.  The verdancy of the image is almost too much to behold as we look towards the wooded background.   Everything is so lush.  This painting is not of a vast garden with its beautifully manicured lawn which we are used to seeing around French chateaux of the Loire Valley.   This painting is of a small, full-to-the brim with flowers, Berkshire garden in front of its chocolate-box type of dwelling.  There is a snug homeliness about this picture.  There is a feeling of security and wellbeing about the setting.

We are all so used to seeing Spencer’s unusual figures in his religious paintings, which link biblical stories with his native Cookham.  We are also used to his paintings which hark back to the relationship with his two wives, but the garden pictures of Stanley Spencer which he painted throughout his life, have remained little known.   They celebrate all those things that Spencer thought of as quintessentially English and highlight the English love of their gardens.  For this reason I urge you to visit the exhibition before it closes.

The Times described this painting as:

“….the work of a Pre-Raphaelite who has looked at Cezanne..”

The Director of Compton Verney said of Spencer’s paintings:

“…Nothing in Spencer is without symbolism.  He was an inherently mystical person.  For him even the most modest garden was a self-contained vision of heaven…”

I will put it more simply and say that it is so easy to fall in love with the simplicity and beauty of Spencer’s garden paintings and I would love to hang one on my wall at home to remind me of the beauty that is the English countryside.

Double Nude Portrait by Sir Stanley Spencer

A few days ago I watched a television programme which looked at twentieth century British artists and My Daily Art Display today looks at one of the paintings which the programme highlighted.  It was a work of art by Sir Stanley Spencer, completed in 1937 and is entitled the Double Nude Portrait, sometimes known as Leg of Mutton Nude, for reasons we will look at later   I like this painting for its honesty but also because of the story behind it.  It is a story of three people: Spencer and his two wives.  In a way, it is a story about love, infatuation, lust and how bad decisions can change lives.

Stanley Spencer

Stanley Spencer was born in 1891 in Cookham, Berkshire, a small village on the River Thames, situated west of London.  Spencer loved Cookham and was to spend most of his life living in this idyllic spot.  He started his art studies at the age of seventeen when he attended the Slade School of Art, which was part of the University College, London, and where he remained for four years.  The First World War intervened and Spencer joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1915 and from there he transferred to the Berkshire Regiment the following year.  He witnessed the savage conflict in Macedonia but he physically survived the war although mentally scarred by the horrors he encountered whilst in active service.  Sadly, when he returned to Cookham after the war he learnt that his brother Sydney had been killed in the war three months earlier.

Hilda Carline

Whilst Stanley Spencer attended the Slade School of art he became friendly with a fellow student, Sydney Carline who was one of three children of the British painter and illustrator George Carline.  Sydney had two younger artistic siblings, a brother, Richard and a sister Hilda.  Although George Carline actively encouraged his two sons to become artists he never encouraged his daughter to follow the same path and she idled her time at home in Oxford.  Eventually when she was twenty-four her father arranged for her to go to a London art school in Hampstead, which was run by Percyval Tudor-Hart.  Such was her artistic progress that five years later, in 1918, aged twenty-nine, she also was admitted to the Slade School of Art.   It was around this time that Sydney met Hilda when he was invited to a Carline family meal in 1919.  Spencer was immediately smitten by the lovely Hilda and recalled that first meeting saying:

‘…As she came towards me … with the soup, I thought how extraordinary she looked … I could feel my true self in that extraordinary person….I felt she had the same mental attitude to things as I had. I saw myself in that extraordinary person. I saw life with her…..’

Within a few weeks of that first meeting Spencer wrote to Hilda asking to buy one of her paintings.  He wrote:

‘…there is something heavenly in it and the more I look at it, the more I love it..”.

There followed a quite tempestuous courtship, their relationship had its ups and downs and had to withstand many heated arguments.  Having said that, the couple spent a lot of time painting together and Spencer was very complimentary about her artistic talent.  Hilda Carline went on to exhibit many of her works at the Royal Academy and the New English Art Club, an artists’ society, a society which was founded in 1886 in reaction against the conservatism of the Royal Academy.

In 1925 Hilda Carline and Stanley Spencer married at Wangford in North Suffolk, a place which was well known to Hilda as during the First World War she was stationed there as a Land Girl.  By the end of the year Hilda had given birth to a baby girl, Shirin.  During the next few years the couple moved around southern England until January 1932, at which time Stanley could afford to buy Lindworth, a comfortable residence in the centre of Cookham, with its tennis court and large garden.  This was solely his choice as his wife would have preferred to live in central London to be close to the centre of the art world as well as being close to her widowed mother who still lived in Hampstead.  For Stanley, returning to Cookham gave him the chance to recapture the early inspirational ecstasies which he called Cookham-feelings.   Of this special feeling, and of his day in this idyllic setting, he once wrote:

“.. We swim and look at the bank over the rushes.  I swim right in the pathway of the sunlight.  I go home to breakfast thinking as I go of the beautiful wholeness of the day.  During the morning I am visited, and walk about being that visitation.  Now everything seems more definite and to put on a new meaning and freshness.  In the afternoon I set out my work and begin my picture.  I leave off at dusk, fully delighted with the spiritual labour I have done…”

So Stanley Spencer is delighted with his life and Hilda, his wife, is reasonably happy, so what could possibly go wrong with this idyllic lifestyle?   Sadly Stanley like many of us didn’t appreciate what he had.

Patricia Preece

Enter the third person in this story – Patricia Preece.  Patricia had, along with her artist friend and lesbian lover, Dorothy Hepworth, moved to the village of Cookham.  It was in 1929, when Patricia working in the local High Street café first met Stanley Spencer.   Stanley, Hilda and their daughter Shirin, who were visiting the village, came in to the café for lunch.  After a conversation about their love for art Spencer invited the two women to visit the Spencer-Carline house parties and picnics and where she was often courted by Hilda’s brother Richard Carline.  Spencer and Preece had, besides their art, another thing in common, their love of Cookham.  This was in complete contrast to Hilda’s feelings for the village, a situation which saddened her husband.

The relationship between Spencer and Hilda and Patricia Preece started off well, in fact for the first three years they were best of friends and in 1933 Stanley Spencer and Patricia went off together on an artistic assignment in Switzerland with Hilda’s blessing. Richard Carline’s devotion to Patricia ended when he belatedly realised the truth about her relationship with her live-in lover Dorothy.  Patricia now turned her attentions to Stanley Spencer, not for amorous reasons but for the reason of his extensive art world contacts which would help her and Dorothy with their artistic careers and also because she, who was comparatively poor, knew that Stanley was a wealthy man.  Patricia’s financial situation worsened when the knitwear business of the Hepworth family, from which Dorothy received great financial remuneration, went bankrupt.  By 1934, the life of the two women had reached crisis point, their Cookham home was about to be repossessed and they had no money to pay every-day bills.

From l to r.  Hepworth, Preece and Spencer
From l. to r. Hepworth, Preece and Spencer

Stanley Spencer rode to the women’s rescue by suggesting they came to live with Hilda and him.  Hilda was having none of her husband’s rescue plan.  She also became very concerned by her husband’s closer than ever relationship with Patricia.  She took comfort by leaving Cookham for periods of time along with her daughters, going to stay with her mother.  Her absence from the family home was all that Patricia needed to get closer to Stanley.  They would visit each other’s houses even though Patricia’s lover Dorothy was not best pleased with this blossoming relationship.  Stanley and Patricia sadly had different agendas.  For Patricia, Stanley Spencer’s money and contacts were of prime importance whereas for Spencer there was a sexual desire.

Hilda initially fought to save their marriage.   However, when her brother George became seriously ill towards the end of 1932, she went to London to be with him. By 1934, she knew that she could no longer stay with her husband and moved to London.  Spencer became more and more obsessed with the flirtatious Preece, and he showered her with gifts. She persuaded him to divorce his first wife and to sign his house over to her. Patricia Preece married Spencer in 1937 and they were supposed to go on honeymoon in Cornwall.  Preece and Dorothy  went on ahead and in fact Spencer never joined them, remaining in Cookham to finish a painting.  Hilda went to Cookham and, finding a warm welcome from Spencer, spent the night with him. Spencer proposed a ménage à trois with her and Patricia but Hilda would not accept being his mistress, having once been his wife. Preece was shocked by this turn of events and refused thereafter to have sexual relations with him.

Double Nude Portrait by Sir Stanley Spencer (1937)

So that is the story of the three people and now let us look at the painting which Spencer completed in 1937, the year of his second marriage.  It is a stark and explicit painting of the artist and his second wife Patricia Preece.  It was painted at a time when Spencer realised the mistake he had made leaving his first wife Hilda and marrying this femme fatale.  Look at the forlorn depiction he gave himself as he squats before his uncaring wife.  His skin tone is a dull grey.  We are not looking at a man of great virility.  Whereas artists in the past have portrayed themselves or their sitters as virile and glamorous, we see in front of us an unidealized vision of a man.  He stares down at the breasts of his wife but he is not aroused.  Look at his flaccid penis which presumably alludes to his lack of virility and the non-consummation of his marriage.  Look how Spencer has depicted Preece.  She lays there, legs apart with a vacant look on her face.  She does not look at Spencer.  She exudes an air of disinterest.  Spencer’s depiction of his wife acknowledges her rejection of him.  There is no eye contact.  The bodies are not touching.  There is a total disconnect between husband and wife.  You know the marriage is doomed.   There are two other interesting objects in the painting.  Firstly in the foreground we have a leg of mutton (hence the alternative title of the painting) and in the background we have a lit gas fire.  We can presume that the cold leg of mutton somehow symbolises the coldness of his wife as she lies in front of him and it is in contrast to the heat from the fire which is the only thing in the painting which is going to give warmth to the artist.

Would you say the painting is erotic?  Does it have the eroticism of a Schiele painting?  To me, the painting is sexual but not erotic.  It is an honest painting and tinged with sadness.  Should we be sad for the artist or should we simply look upon him as somebody who has rightly got his just deserts?  Could things get any worse for Spencer?  Well, actually the answer to that is yes.

Preece being a gold-digger and Spencer being besotted and somewhat foolish was persuaded to sign his house and financial affairs over to Preece who never left her lover Hepworth.  It is also thought that she had some leverage over Spencer and threatened to expose him and his erotic paintings unless he agreed to the financial terms.   There was no acceptance in the 1930’s for such sexual works.  Patricia  eventually evicted Spencer from the house, and would not grant him a divorce, but continued to receive payments from him. After he was knighted in 1959, she insisted on being styled Lady Spencer and claimed a pension as his widow. Spencer’s fear of being exposed by Preece over his erotic paintings made him keep today’s painting under his bed where it remained until he died.  Spencer lived to regret leaving his first wife and constantly wrote to her and occasionally visited her and their two children.

Sir Stanley Spencer died in 1959, aged 68.  Hilda Carline died in 1950 aged  61.  Patricia Preece died in 1966 aged 72.  Wendy Hepworth died in 1978, aged 80.