Sir Stanley Spencer

Double Nude Portrait: The Artist and his Second Wife


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In Tate Britain

Sir Stanley Spencer 1891–1959
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 838 × 937 mm
frame: 1093 × 1121 × 80 mm
Purchased 1974

Display caption

Spencer is depicted naked, contemplating the body of second wife, Patricia Preece. It was painted in a frank, non-idealised manner, the year they were married. However, their relationship was already troubled. Despite their physical proximity there is a sense of distance and sexual tension between the figures. Seen close-up and compressed in the picture space, they create an uncomfortable sensation of intimacy when viewing the painting. Spencer pays close attention to the colours and textures of human skin which are contrasted with the flesh tones of a raw joint of mutton.

Gallery label, November 2021

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Catalogue entry

Sir Stanley Spencer 1891–1959

T01863 Double Nude Portrait: The Artist and his Second Wife 1937

Inscribed ‘A. Tooth and Sons, 155 New Bond Street, London W From Stanley Spencer, Lindworth, Cookham’ on centre stretcher bar. Canvas, 36 x 36¿ (91.5 x 92.7). Purchased at Sotheby’s (Grant-in-Aid)1974.
Coll: Estate of the artist; Arthur Tooth and Sons; Robert Savage; Mervyn Levy; David Hughes; Piccadilly Gallery; Peyton Skipwith; Sotheby’s 13 March 1974 (91B) bt. Waddington for the Tate Gallery.
Exh: Stanley Spencer, Merradin Gallery, March–April 1972 (not in catalogue).
Lit: Maurice Collis, Stanley Spencer, 1962, p.125; Edward Lucie-Smith, Eroticism in Western Art, 1972, p·173, repr. pl·179; Robert Melville and Simon Wilson, Erotic Art of the West, 1973, p.30 (Wilson), p. 145 (Melville), repr. pl·53 in colour; Andrew Forge ‘Erotic Art of the West’ in Artforwn, xii, No.8, April 1974, p.66; Peter Webb, The Erotic Arts, to be published 1975, repr. pl. 176.

A self portrait with the artist’s second wife Patricia (née Preece). Painted at Lindworth, Spencer’s house in Cookham where he lived from1932–8.

This painting appears never to have been properly titled by the artist. According to Nicholas Tooth the title ‘Leg of Mutton Nude’, by which it was known for several years before the Tate Gallery acquired it, was probably given by Dudley Tooth when acting as the artist’s executor after his death in 1959. However, the present work can be firmly identified with the painting variously referred to by Spencer in his writings as ‘Double-nude with stove’, ‘Double nude approx. 40 40 P. and S.’ and ‘the big double nude’, since the only other double nude by Spencer of himself and Patricia Preece is the work now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, which has no stove and measures 24 x 36 in.

These references occur in two documents among the Spencer papers now in the Tate Gallery archive. One of these is a quarto ledger in which the artist has listed his paintings from 1910–59. On pages 274 and 276 (275 is blank) of this ledger are listed 36 works under the heading ‘Paintings 1936’. Number 36 and last on the list is ‘Double-nude with stove’. T01863 has previously been dated 1937, the year in which it was received from the artist by his dealers, Arthur Tooth and Sons (information from Nicholas Tooth), but it would appear that it was in fact executed towards the end of 1936.

The other document consists of 6 quarto sheets (8 pp.) of notes by the artist on the subject of his paintings of the nude. It falls into three sections, the first dated 26 April 1947, the second undated, the third dated September 1955.

According to this document T01863 is one of seven nudes or semi-nudes by Spencer which have in common the fact that they were all painted from life or, in the case of two of them, from life drawings, one of which was done directly onto the canvas. Two of these paintings are self-portraits with Patricia Preece; one is a half length of the artist’s first wife Hilda and four are of Patricia Preece alone. A complete list of them is given in section one of the document. Number five on the list is ‘Double nude approx 40 x 40 P. & S.’

Spencer clearly attached considerable importance to these life nudes particularly, it seems, because of the contrast they provided with his imaginative or visionary figure paintings. In part one of the document he writes ‘I wish my shows could include the nudes (oil) that I have done. I think to have them interspersed in a show would convey the range of my work. They are quite different. I wish there were more of them, but I have never had pro. models, not liking the idea. I believe I could do some good painting if I did. If I got enough done I would have a show. They have such an effect on the other works… The nudes are completely different from the figure pictures, as is, of course, all the work I do from some object, as for instance portraits and still lifes. I have the No.7 “Lying on back” here and I have been putting it along with the Resurrection paintings. [The series of Port Glasgow Resurrection paintings which Spencer was working on at this time.] I put round the room just what I had and I feel the need of these paintings from life: I wish I could paint all I do from life, especially the figure pictures, or rather mix the breed. When I looked at this “show” I had I could feel something of this mixture’. These points are reiterated and expanded in section three of the document specifically with reference to T01863: ‘Sept. 1955. I have now brought back home the big double nude. When I put it alongside any of my other work it shows how needed it is to give to my work the variety that is so refreshing. The big double nude is rather a remarkable thing. There is in it male, female and animal flesh. The remarkable thing is that to me it is absorbing and restful to look at. There is none of my usual imagination in this thing: it is direct from nature and my imagination never works faced by objects or landscape. But there is something satisfying in looking at it. It was done with zest and my direct painting capacity I had.

‘I feel all the time how much my shows need these nudes. I shall have to start on myself only it is very tiring. And I don’t want them to be hurried’.

In fact it appears that Stanley Spencer painted no more nudes from life after this time and the original seven, of which T01863 is the largest and most iconographically complex, remain unique in his oeuvre.

In the second section of the document Spencer refers to his plans for the ‘Church-house’ a half secular, half religious building for the exhibition of his paintings: ‘It was when I was writing what I call Church-house, at the time when I hoped to work out a scheme where the Church and the church pictures gradated into a house or houses and house and domestic pictures… There would be a room of nudes from life... The room of nudes would show how much they balance a need in the whole cosmical conception.’ The artist also writes: ‘I wanted in the nude section to show the analogy between the Church and the prescribed nature of worship, and human love’, a remark which perhaps provides some clue to the meaning of T01863.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.


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