Stanley Spencer – a life complicated by women

Artist Stanley Spencer’s marital life has been described as “the most bizarre domestic soap opera in the history of British art”. He was renowned for his First World War memorial paintings and his life in rural Cookham murals. His paintings originally provoked shock and controversy and foreshadow some of the much later works of Lucian Freud.

 He left his first wife, Hilda, having been vamped by Patricia Preece, who on marrying him, left immediately after the wedding with her lesbian lover and conned him out of his house, the assumption being she only married him to restore her bankrupt family’s fortunes. He returned intermittently to his first wife whom he faithfully visited during her last illness. Just to add to the confusion Patricia Preece’s paintings, well remarked at the time, appear to have been painted by her lover Dorothy Hepworth.

   Spencer was born 30 June 1891, no birth time, London and was a Sun Mars in Cancer with the inspired, imaginative and often tormented Neptune Pluto in Gemini amplified in his chart conjunct Venus and North Node and squaring a Saturn opposition Jupiter. No surprises his life read like overblown fiction – fantastical, prone to cons and falsehoods, mystical and clearly talented.

  His first wife Hilda, 20 November 1889, was a late Sun Scorpio with her Venus in Scorpio trine his Sun and her Mercury in Scorpio in an argumentative trine to his Mars. Their relationship chart has a passionate Venus Mars conjunction; and a power-couple, overly hopeful Jupiter trine Neptune Pluto but it was also riddled with doubt and suspicion from Neptune Pluto square Saturn.

Patricia Preece, 22 January 1894, was a Sun Aquarius with an ultra-determined and duplicitous Mars in Sagittarius opposition Neptune Pluto. Her Venus did trine his Sun and her Mars squaring his Venus would provide a spark of attraction; though clashing as it did with his Saturn it was always destined to end in tears.  Their relationship chart has an affectionate Sun, Venus, Jupiter conjunction which would be reassuringly affectionate but that sat side by side with an unkind/cruel/unpleasant Mars Saturn conjunction trine Pluto. Neptune  

 Dorothy Hepworth,  30 September 1894, was a Sun Libra and Moon which fitted with Preece’s Aquarius Sun and Leo Moon. But that apart it would be an uneasy match – though their relationship chart did have an affectionate Sun, Mercury, Venus opposition Pluto Neptune Jupiter conjunction – love and control and duplicity all sitting together; plus a one sided Saturn trine Mars.

  Oddly enough Spencer’s relationship chart with Hepworth was the most aggravated of the quartet with a composite Pluto Mars Neptune.

  His first wedding to Hilda on 23 February 1925 has a composite New Moon (probably) so she would make him feel whole with a doubting Venus opposition Neptune square Saturn; a push-and-pull Pluto Jupiter and a Grand Trine onto a Kite with Jupiter as the leading planet. More pluses than minuses though according to biographers her self-confidence waned during her marriage to Spencer and she painted more after the marriage split. He was a man of “idiosyncratic vision, unassailable conviction, egocentricity, and brilliance.” They could both be stubborn and argumentative.

 His wedding to Preece, 29 May 1937 had a power-couple (struggle for the upper hand) Jupiter opposition Pluto square Venus which does hint at manipulation (Venus Pluto) with a hyper-determined Mars trine Pluto inconjunct Venus.  

  The art world has always been awash with complicated liaisons and not on the whole renowned for committed marriages but this does seem to be weirder than most.

  A new book THE SECRET ART OF DOROTHY HEPWORTH AKA PATRICIA PREECE by Denys J. Wilcox is out later this month.

12 thoughts on “Stanley Spencer – a life complicated by women

  1. The Lunar Eclipse of March 25, 2024 at 5Libra 24 falls on his Asc at 5Libra07. Do
    eclipses resurrect the dead in our memory???

    • Something is happening, I was just thinking of saying it, that whenever I think of a person, it seems it is their birthday or was/is close. Made me wonder.

    • I doubt so. Given that the time of birth is unknown. So ascendant is not accurate. But Stanley Spencer had a sun sextile saturn. And saturn is now at 11 degree Pisces thus opposite his Saturn. That might be the reason. I have been noticing people with Sun Saturn aspect never really fade in oblivion. They will “forever” be with us. And Saturn ruled longevity.

  2. I hope you’ll like it! Virginia Woolf’s voice is also available.

    Good of you to remind me of Violet Trefusis, whose mother is Alice Keppel, great grandmother of Queen Camilla.

  3. Is Dorothy Hepworth any relation of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth? Earlier generation perhaps? How interesting comparing Lucien Freud’s work to Stanley Spencer’s. I hadn’t thought of that before but can certainly see the influence there.

  4. Thank you Marjorie for this. I’ve never come across another artist who paints flesh in such a way as to make it appear so vulnerable and raw. He’s not at all interested in flattering his subjects and his nude portraits of Preece are a billion miles away from the airbrushed dishonesty we are accustomed to today. Surprised to see Google has censored these paintings in its search engine – I first saw the double nude portrait of Spencer and Preece at the age of about 12 at the Tate and it didn’t do me any damage, just piqued my curiosity of adult sexual relationships. In the double nude portraits of Preece and Spencer, he appears detached, as does she – an odd juxtaposition of two lovers who appear to inhabit different realms altogether.

    What an extraordinary generation the Neptune/Pluto conjunction gave us. Just pondering Marjorie’s statement that Spencer’s liaisons were weirder than most. Well, perhaps but one only has to look at the bizarre triangle consisting of Dora Carrington, Lytton Strachey and Ralph Partridge to see another example of an odd domestic set up. When Carrington married Partridge, Strachey accompanied them on the honeymoon and the three set up home together in Ham Spray House in Wiltshire. Dora had affairs with both men and women – bisexuality seems to be a recurring theme in the lives of the Neptune/Pluto generation of artists.

    • Virgoflake,

      Would you consider the Vita–Virginia–Harold putting in the same basket or was that just perhaps a bit unusual but fairly quiet triangle?

      Ever since I heard Vita’s voice – and she speaks in this imperial, old-world, superposh accent I miss so much (so sad to see the UK drift away from RP through the decades) – I fell in love with it and with her, I believe. There is one recording on YouTube, she reading from The Land, but there were two other recordings as well, one on Orlando and her giving some sort of interview about her family’s favourite passtimes, or something like that. Those two are now available on obscure CDs that can be found online with a bit of searching.

      I believe the British Library website has her full recording of The Land available.

      • They’re a good example, yes! Violet Treyfusis too. Virginia was a little older I believe and has Neptune and Pluto in Taurus, an ascendant and Mars in Gemini but Violet has her Sun in Gemini as well as the Neptune/Pluto conjunction.

        I guess their position in life made it easier for them to go thir own way, and artists and creatives inhabit a so-called Bohemian world outside of the conventional workplace and the need for respectability and have more freedom to live without the restraints of their society.

        I’m going to listen to the wonderful voice of VSW on YouTube thanks to your recommendation.

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