An Artistic Affair - Stanley Spencer and Daphne Charlton

30 March - 1 October 2017

Stanley Spencer Gallery

This exhibition offers a new perspective on the affair between Stanley Spencer and Daphne Charlton, based on the curator’s recorded conversations with Daphne, who had a pithy turn of phrase. She stated, for instance, that she had ‘no inhibitions at all’.

In 1939, after a divorce from his first wife and the fiasco of a failed second marriage,followed by a short period living on his own in London, Stanley Spencer began an affair with the artist Daphne Charlton. It was to last until 1941, although they remained in touch for the rest of his life. Ebullient, vivid and a larger than life character, she was to feature in a remarkable series of drawings and paintings by Spencer inspired by their affair. Many of these will be on display in the exhibition.

In June 1939, Spencer went to stay with Daphne and George Charlton at 40 New End Square, their home in Hampstead. George spent most of his professional life as a teacher of painting and drawing at the Slade. He and Spencer had known each other for some years and got on well together, as they continued to do throughout subsequent events. George was said to have proposed to many of his female pupils, but it was Daphne who accepted. They were married in 1929, when George was thirty and she nineteen.

In July, the trio of artists left for a painting holiday in the rural village of Leonard Stanley, near Stroud in Gloucestershire. Here they stayed at the White Hart Inn, which now has a plaque in honour of Spencer. They remained there after the outbreak of the Second World War. By October, the Slade had been evacuated to Oxford. George spent each Sunday to Wednesday in Oxford, and the affair between Stanley and Daphne blossomed. Daphne was eighteen years younger and considerably taller than Spencer, although he made them the same height in some of his Scrapbook drawings. He started these drawings in Leonard Stanley, inspired by his purchase locally of children’s scrapbooks. Largely autobiographical in character, he kept them for reference for the rest of his life, making a number of paintings from them. Daphne features largely in the first of the Scrapbooks, where she and Spencer areseen outdoors in and around Leonard Stanley, and also at the White Hart Inn. In the exhibition, for example, we see Daphne dress making, hanging her clothes over pictures on the wall (there were no wardrobes), sitting on Spencer’s lap while they put on their shoes, and cutting his nails.

The Woolshop 1939 (on loan from Tate) was the first picture to be derived from a Scrapbookdrawing. The painting and drawing are displayed together for the first time. On Daphne’s birthday the Charltons and Spencer - the fact that all three were involved is hitherto unrecorded - went to a shop in the nearby town of Stonehouse to purchase wool. Daphne wished to knit socks, to match the yellow jumper she had received as a present from her sister-in-law. In the picture, the high-spirited, curvaceous Daphne, with a mane of fair hair, is assisted by a diminutive Stanley. A third figure, possibly George, appears appropriately enough in the background. Spencer’s love of pattern and repeated motifs is seen in the bales of cloth on the shelves, and the convoluted skeins of wool that appear to take on a life of their own.

In 1940 Spencer painted his celebrated portrait of Daphne (on loan from Tate). She wears a decorative blouse and a jaunty little black hat, with pink rose and veil, that he had purchased for 3 guineas. A Chinese bowl appears behind her on a mantelpiece. For the first time, the hat, blouse and bowl (on loan from Burgh House & Hampstead Museum) will be displayed with the portrait.

The exhibition includes a formal collaboration with another artist that was unique in Spencer’s oeuvre. He and Daphne produced a Dig for Victory poster design (on loan from Jerwood Collection), that is signed by both artists. It was intended for the village hall in Leonard Stanley in support of the government’s successful campaign, at a time of rationing,to encourage the population to grow its own food. The exhibition also displays Self-Portraits by both George and Daphne Charlton (on loan from Burgh House & Hampstead Museum), and a painting from George’s set of four depictions of the churchyard at Leonard Stanley, seen from the same viewpoint in successive seasons (lent by a private collector).

Stanley, Daphne and Stanley’s first wife Hilda all appear in Village Life, Gloucestershire1940 (on loan from The Cheltenham Trust and Cheltenham Borough Council), although Hilda never actually visited Leonard Stanley. When the picture featured in the Stanley Spencer Gallery’s Summer Exhibition of 1974, Daphne came to see it. In an unpublished letter, she commented, ‘I seem to come to “life” in the Stanley Gallery [sic], surrounded by his works & experiences.’