Saturday, 25 July 2009

Honorary cartoonist: Stanley Spencer

This detail is the off-centrepiece of a large painting called ‘Love on the Moor,’ the full version of which I haven’t been able to find. Measuring 79 x 310cm, or roughly two-and-a-half feet by ten, it was painted by Stanley Spencer, on and off, between 1937 and 1955.
The statue is of Hilda, his first wife, as the Goddess of Love, with Stanley himself clinging on desperately to her legs. She’s overlooking a vast scene, set on Cookham Moor, celebrating the joys of sex. Earlier he’d had trouble with the authorities over a couple of drawings he’d done, so here he’s resorted to symbolism and everyone has their clothes on (except the statue). Consequently the painting is like one big cartoon.
The men and women are mostly exchanging gifts, including big knickers, clothes, hats, lilies, and suggestively shaped fruit. The most cartoony idea must be where a cow and a woman are wearing the same outfit (behind the statue).
Spencer was a typical English eccentric who followed what he probably thought was his heart to the edge of reason, thus making life miserable for those around him, including two wives. Most of his paintings involved the reworking of biblical themes set in and around his home town of Cookham. He was an accomplished landscape and portrait painter too, but the humour in his narrative work has often been overlooked.
The painting is in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

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