Sir Stanley Spencer, R.A. (1891-1959)
Taking off Collar
signed with initials and dated 'SS 35' (lower right)
oil on canvas
19½ x 16 in. (49.5 x 40.6 cm.)
Acquired by F.M.S. Winand at the 1936 exhibition.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 12 November 1982, lot 108, as 'Buttoning the Collar'.
with Fine Art Society, London.
M. Collis, Stanley Spencer A Biography, London, 1962, p. 118.
K. Bell, exhibition catalogue, Stanley Spencer R.A., London, 1980, p. 142.
D. Robinson, Stanley Spencer, Oxford, 1990, p. 65, as 'Buttoning the Collar'.
K. Bell, Stanley Spencer A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, London, 1992, pp. 128, 441, no. 191, illustrated.
London, Arthur Tooth & Sons, Stanley Spencer, June 1936, no. 14.
Victoria, Australia, National Gallery, Empire Art Loans Exhibitions Society, Exhibition of Twentieth Century British Art, November 1939, no. 108, as 'Buttoning the Collar'.
Cookham, Stanley Spencer Gallery, Winter Exhibition, 1965 - 1966, no. 19.

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André Zlattinger
André Zlattinger

Lot Essay

Taking off Collar is one of Spencer's Domestic Scenes, a series of nine pictures executed during the period spanning the summers of 1935 and 1936. At this time the artist was seeking to divorce his first wife, Hilda, and these paintings were deeply influenced by the artist's nostalgic feelings about the time they had spent together. In the context of the marital breakdown these pictures begin the process in Spencer's art when Hilda was progressively transformed into an idealised image. Free from the difficulties which plagued his everyday life, Spencer could turn to the imaginary world of his paintings where Hilda could be accommodated to the shape of his feelings: 'My desire to paint', he wrote in 1938, 'is caused by my being unable - or incapable - of fulfilling my desires in life itself' (Stanley Spencer quoted in K. Hauser, Stanley Spencer, London, 2001, p. 58). Hilda, it seems, was vital to his art, his imagination and his mental equilibrium. He needed her most of all, perhaps, as the recipient of his letters, the invisible audience for his thoughts, his love-object, even after she was dead. She became, in his imagination, the very principle of love, and an inseparable part of him, despite everything. 'I can only feel that oneness that I love, with you', he told her in 1943. 'I could identify myself with you utterly so that I felt like a single being that was me and you. Also you are the only being I can write to or want to. It is a wonderful thing to write and not have to be careful what I say ... Nothing ever compensated me for the loss of you' (Stanley Spencer quoted in J. Rothenstein (ed.), Stanley Spencer the Man: Correspondence and Reminiscenes, London, 1979, p. 72).

The 'Scenes' are given a double significance as they also represent as a sequence Spencer's vision of the preparation for The Marriage at Cana, at which Christ was present, and where he turned water into wine, as is described in the second chapter of St. John's Gospel. Stanley and Hilda, two guests, choose clothes to wear to the wedding feast. The painting shows Hilda assisting the artist with one of the detachable collars which were kept in the bedroom chest of drawer. It is closely related to At the Chest of Drawers (Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham) (fig. 1), in which the artist and his wife rummage through drawers from which collars spill.

The complete series of Domestic Scenes were displayed at Spencer's one-man exhibition at Tooths in June 1936. The title given to the work at this show was typical of Spencer's ungrammatical style.

We are very grateful to Carolyn Leader for her help in cataloguing this work.

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