Stanley Spencer, Self portrait with Patricia Preece(Fitzwilliam Museum, London), 1936
I would hate to have anyone thing that only women are hoisted on the petard of sexuality. Today, I am writing about the loveliest—and perhaps the strangest—of 20th century painters, Sir Stanley Spencer.
Spencer has three distinct bodies of work. They are so unlike each other that the uninitiated would be forgiven for not realizing they’re by the same artist. First are his religious paintings, to which I will return later, but which range from the austere beauty of the Sandham Memorial Chapel to the Botero-like figures of his Biblical narratives (except, of course, that he was doing these figures before Botero was born). Second are his landscapes, which are perfectly drafted, intimate views of the English countryside. But today I want to talk about his destructive obsession with the artist Patricia Preece.
By 1925, when Spencer married fellow artist Hilda Carline, he was already a respected British painter. The couple had two daughters, Shirin and Unity and by all appearances seemed happily married. In 1929, Spencer met Preece, and became infatuated with her. Divorced by his wife in 1937, he married Preece a week later. Preece continued to live with her partner, Dorothy Hepworth.
While she frequently posed nude for her Spencer, the marriage was unconsummated. Despite this, Spencer signed his house over to Preece.
|Nude Portrait of Patricia Preece by Stanley Spencer, 1935. Is it obsession, loathing, or what?|
Spencer remained, in his way, devoted to his ex-wife, Hilda Carline, visiting her during her mental breakdown and writing her letters after her death from cancer in 1950.
I’ve never decided what was driving him in this relationship. Was it obsession, loathing, self-loathing, or what? Regardless, the paintings themselves are brutally honest, and brilliant in that honesty.
Have a wonderful weekend. I promise to get off the subject of figure painting before next week.
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in joining us for a fantastic time in mid-Coast Maine this summer, check here for more information.