Hilda with Hair Down is one of SpencerÂ’s best known and most beautiful drawings of his first wife.

They met in 1919, were married in 1925 and at the time of this drawing were living in Chapel View, Burghclere, where he was working on his murals in the chapel, a project that took five years. There were already tensions within the marriage during this period and disagreements over subjects as varied as religion, the organisation of domestic life and Hilda’s gardening at their cottage. When Hilda was away for the birth of their daughter Unity in 1930, Stanley sent her a regular supply of letters on these themes, which could be anything up to a hundred pages long. Hilda with Hair Down represents an important moment of tenderness towards Hilda in the summer of 1931, when Hilda, her mother and her brother George were staying at Chapel View. Physically attracted to Hilda from the start, Spencer had immediately admired her dark reddish hair, drawn here in calligraphic style. In a letter begun on 28 June 1930, Stanley wrote to Hilda: ‘I would so love to do a drawing of you with your hair down; not because I think it suits you, although it gives you one special look I love, but because it would be such fun to do, & because the drawing I did of Evylyn Ballard gave me a feeling of how marvellous long hair was….It gives one a wonderful feeling of infiniteness & endlessness.’ That feeling of infinity is admirably captured in this portrait.


The artist; Arthur Tooth and Sons, 1959; Richard Carline, 1959; private collection.

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