Monday, October 25, 2010

Charles Spencelayh - The Empty Chair

Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 76,800 GBP

59 by 48 cm. ; 23 by 19 in.

signed and dated l.l.: C.SPENCELAYH./ 1947

oil on canvas

Royal Academy, 1947

One of the greatest charms of Spencelayh's interiors is in his placing of a pleasant-faced old gentleman or comely young lady among arrayed items of bric-a-brac and furniture, which remind us of the houses of our parents and grandparents. The old chairs around the table that don't match, a prized teapot with a chipped lid handed down through the family and the miscellany of prints and old paintings which cluttered the walls; these all have their quaint appeal. Among the items in The Empty Chair is one of the many thousands of prints printed by Pears soap manufacturers of John Everett Millais' painting Bubbles (Royal Academy of Art). These everyday recognisable objects which evoke feelings of nostalgia and cosy contentment, touch us on an emotional level, whilst the hints of an unfolding narrative absorbs us completely into the intimacy of these domestic worlds. Every element is captured with loving care, from the finely observed expression of the gentleman lost in a daydream to the peeling wallpaper. The dexterity that Spencelayh demonstrates in the rendering of something as ordinary as the well-worn carpet or crinkled tablecloth demonstrates the artist's affection for these trappings of civilised normality and national pride with which we surround ourselves behind every dining room door. These arrayed items were of course the decorations of Spencelayh's own home and the world depicted is very much the world of Spencelayh, peopled by figures that he depicted with an understanding and tenderness which is both beautiful and moving.

The gentleman is alone now to take his tea, but still he takes the time to lay a table (albeit in a rather unpractised manner) and is dressed smartly even indoors. There is a sense of melancholy and absence but not of the hair-rending, breast-beating Victorian type; this is the depiction of the autumn of 'real life' where paintings hang on nails over wall paper which has seen better days and life goes on as it did before, with all it's comforting rituals and familiarities. Spencelayh presents a slice of life in much the same way as soap opera or modern documentary photography and we can all relate to these scenes with their lack of pretence and immediacy.

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