The Month of March – Dressmaking (1926)
Drawing, Pen and ink on paper, 706mm x 546mm
This is probably a recollection of Spencer’s first wife Hilda standing on the kitchen table in her family home in Hampstead during the making of her wedding dress. This flurry of preparation upset Stanley who broke off the engagement, not for the first time. They were finally married in Wangford church in 1925. Drawn for the Chatto & Windus Almanack of 1927, the only book he ever illustrated, his peaceful, lyrical evocation of the seasons is marked by scenes from his childhood, life with friends in London and marriage to Hilda Carline.
In 1926 Charles Prentice of Chatto & Windus commissioned Spencer to produce twenty-five illustrations for an Almanack to be published in the following year. Spencer started work on the pen and ink drawings in March 1926, producing two illustrations for each month and a version of the Chatto & Windus ‘twins’ for the cover and title page. He completed the drawings during the summer. He had been asked to provide drawings on domestic and pastoral themes. His evocation of the changing seasons is marked by scenes from his childhood in Cookham, his life with friends in London and his marriage to Hilda Carline. The peaceful, lyrical drawings form an interesting contrast to his large-scale works at the time, namely his first fully developed use of the Resurrection theme in “The Resurrection, Cookham” 1924-26 (Tate Gallery) and his memories of military service in the First World War in the Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere, which he began in 1927.
The Chatto & Windus Almanack for 1927 was published in October 1926 in two editions: an Edition de Luxe issued at 10s 6d and another in paper covers costing 1s (5p). Spencer was paid £30 for the drawings. The book received some favourable reviews. ‘The Observer’ for instance described the drawings as ‘impish and attractive’ and added that ‘the smooth pages made one’s pen champ to be at them’. Spencer himself wrote to Charles Prentice to express his pleasure with the editions.
Spencer retained two copies of the Almanack which he used for diaries for 1927 and 1928, and as a place for comments on his own work. He later made a number of paintings from the illustrations, such as ‘Neighbours’ (see below), also part of this collection. He worked from the Almanacks themselves, squaring the illustrations for transfer, rather than the original drawings. It was entirely in character for him to use earlier designs as a repository of ideas for paintings. In 1983 Chatto & Windus re-issued the Almanack, the only book Spencer ever illustrated. Dressmaking was drawn as the first illustration for March. It is probably a recollection of Spencer’s first wife Hilda standing on the kitchen table in her family home at 47 Downshire Hill, Hampstead, during the making of her wedding dress. The flurry of preaparation upset Stanley who broke off the engagement, not for the first time. They were finally married in Wangford parish church in 1925. At Stanley’s request Hilda wore something familiar, rather thn a conventional wedding dress. She appears in pencil outline in her wedding clothes in his final tribute to her, the enormous canvas of “The Apotheosis of Hilda”, 1959 (private collection) which sadly was unfinished at the time of his death. An artist herself, Hilda came from a family of painters. After serving in the Women’s Land Army in Wangford during the Great War she trained like Stanley at the Slade. Despite the difficulties in their marriage. Hilda’s was the key role in his emotional life as much of his work showed. They corresponded regularly, and he continued writing to her even after their divorce in 1937 and he death in 1950. The letters could be up to one hundred pages long