“Stanley Spencer was eccentric, but he wasn’t crazy”

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Years later, Martineau will pick Spencer up for lunch in the car. At the time, the artist lived and painted in a room, following a major marital accident. He didn’t mention his second wife, Patricia Preece, whom, Martineau says, Spencer hated. Preece, who refused to consummate the marriage and continued to live with his lover Dorothy Hepworth, had asked the artist to give up his house and studio to him before their marriage in 1937, then proceeded to evict him. “He just accepted it,” says Martineau. “I don’t think he had a lot of needs. He was badly dressed, with glasses often painted with oil on the edges. He certainly never had a car. He lived for his painting.

Later, Martineau’s father and Lord Astor, who lived near Cliveden, would buy back the house Spencer was born in for the artist to live in.

Preece remains a fascinating and enigmatic character, whose own artwork – painted by Hepworth but passed under his name – belonged to Virginia Woolf and Augustus John. In her book, A Private View of Stanley Spencer, Louise Collis describes how Preece “pursued [Spencer] in the street, shouting insults and hitting him with a tennis racket”. Preece is also the subject of some of Spencer’s most notable paintings, such as the 1937 Double Nude Portrait, which was considered highly shocking for its time but inspired artists like Lucian Freud.

A more romantic and pastoral image of Preece, Patricia at Cockmarsh Hill (1935), appears in a new exhibition, Delight in Nature: Stanley Spencer’s World, at Cookham later this month.

Other works evoke life in the fields and gardens of the village he loved. Martineau recalls Spencer spending many hours painting their garden at Taplow for the work Rock Roses (1957) – “He used little brushstrokes and he painted everything that came out of it. It took a while,” he laughs. “There are flowers in it that could never come together.”

And he remembers Spencer coming to visit them by train in Suffolk, when his parents lived there. “It was a hot summer day. And as he entered, he rushed through the house, out of the [back] door, threw himself on the lawn and smelled the grass then said, “Oh, that’s better.” ”


‘Delight in Nature: Stanley Spencer’s World’ is at the Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham, from March 31 to October 30; stanleyspencer.org.uk

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