Stanley Spencer likened his method of painting Patricia Preece, the woman in this painting, to an ant crawling over her body. Look at the creases in her flesh here: the sharply protruding pelvic bone, the brilliantly observed range of skin tones; this is an almost unsettlingly forthright depiction of a naked body.
But if this detail suggests a physical intimacy between the artist and his model, there seems to be at the same time, an emotional gulf between the couple who are shown.
Preece's face wears a bored, disappointed expression. Her eyes are unfocused and vacant. While the man, Spencer himself, gazes at her, not much happier, one feels, than she.The sheets are crumpled, he's flushed but there’s little sense of fulfilment.
Spencer painted this canvas in 1937. In May of that year he married Patricia Preece only four days after his divorce from his first wife Hilda had been finalised. In fact, Spencer had always fantasised about having two wives.
Here’s the Fitzwilliam’s former director, Duncan Robinson:
'To begin with, at least, he had no intention of giving up on his wife or his first marriage and he contemplated bigamy with a complete sort of equanimity. He thought it was the most natural thing in the world to have two women, not one. He was just rather surprised that neither of them liked the idea.'
‘Desire is the essence of all that is holy’, Spencer once wrote, and he saw his love for Hilda and Patricia as somehow sacramental. Here he kneels before the prone figure of his second wife, like a communicant at an altar.
The transcription of the audio file for this stop was enabled by the AHRC funded crowd-sourcing platform MicroPasts. The below generously gave their time to transcribe the file.
Michael Adams, Mariah Ashbacher, Michael Norman, Denis Antoine and Chris Gibbon