There will Always be an England was voted the most popular picture of the year when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy. The picture depicts a contemplative old man seated at a Pembroke table looking up from his newspaper, from which he has read a patriotic story. Around him are arranged the possessions that he has collected over his life, stuffed animals, an ancient family bible, Staffordshire pottery, oil lamps, and prints of pictures by the likes of George Morland and James Hardy. There are also various family portraits of varying vintages, symbolizing the passing of time and heritage, whilst the box on top of his overcoat is that which would have contained a gas-mask which makes the subject more poignant and modern. The painting is a celebration of the British spirit that had endured during WWII. There are other clear symbols of victory and supremacy, such as the print depicting HMS Victory, the painting of a boy dressed-up as a soldier, the old globe in the corner of the room and the calendar illustrated with a photograph of one of the Royal princes.
Spencelayh was greatly inspired by WWII, but not by the horrors and heroism of the soldiers or the tragedy and victory of the battles. He was moved by the defiant patriotism of the men and women left in Britain to guard the home front, particularly the men who, too old to fight, pinned Union Jack's to their lapels and hung photographs of Winston Churchill on the walls of their parlours. Spencelayh's first major painting inspired by the war was Why War? of 1939 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston) which was the sensation of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and bought by the Corporation of Preston on the opening day of the exhibition. The picture was reviewed in at least seventy newspaper articles and was issued as colour print by The Tatler to great success. There'll Always be an England was equally successful and in the following year he exhibited Dig For Victory also known as The Wise Eat More Potatoes (sold in these rooms, 14 December 2006, lot 160) depicting an old man peeling produce grown to help the war effort. Spencelayh continued to paint pictures inspired by patrioticism and the war, Winning the War (sold in these rooms, 17 March 1999, lot 132) and "Here's to Victory" (sold in these rooms 11 March 1998, lot 168) being particularly fine examples. Aubrey Noakes has described the series of pictures as compositions; 'in which the pictures within the picture somehow always turned out to be portraits of Nelson and Wellington, when they were not likenesses of Mr. Churchhill or of members of the Royal Family. These patriotic paintings certainly performed a useful service as morale-boosters at a time when people desperately needed cheering up. For World War II affected everybody, and in the air-raids on crowded cities old women and children were as much in the front line as the soldiers on active service.' (Aubrey Noakes, Charles Spencelayh and his Paintings, 1978, p. 58)
Spencelayh and his wife understood very well the devastation that the war had wreaked on ordinary house-holds. Their three-storey house at Lee in south London had been destroyed when a bomb exploded in the street outside causing the entire front façade to collapse to reveal the rooms inside like a doll's house with the door opened. Remarkably the force of the blast had caused the paintings to be blown from the walls, spun round so that they faced the wall. The Spencelayhs were lucky to have been unscathed themselves but it was a great sadness that they had to move from their house '... crammed solid from cellar to attic with the Victorian furniture and bric-a-brac we see in Spencelayh's paintings; a grandfather clock on every landing (there were six at Lee); the stuffed owls and carp in glass cases; smoking caps; frayed silk hats; oil lamps; musical instruments; shabby Gladstone bags; walking-sticks and umbrellas; framed prints and oil paintings in heavy gilt frames specially ordered from James Bourlet and the ever-increasing acquisitions which resulted from Charles' periodic forays into antique shops. There was even a room in the house which became known as 'the Juggery' because it contained little else but metal and china jugs hung in rows.' (op.cit) The damage caused can be measured by the fact that when they moved into their house in 1937 seven pantechnicons were needed to move their possessions but when they moved out following the air-raid, only three were needed.
Spencelayh was 'a simple, uncomplicated man, happy in his work, and supremely fortunate in that after his happy childhood he married in succession, two kind, loving women who devoted their lives to seeing him happy and ensuring that nothing worried or distracted him from the main business of his life: painting, drawing, painting, drawing.' (ibid Noakes, p.46) His endearing images of aged men, in humble interiors and involved in domestic every-day activities, remain eternally popular for their sensitive and humorous depiction of genteel maturity. His rendering of bric-a-brac details and typically English interiors make his pictures immediately accessible. As Aubrey Noakes has explained; 'Much of Spencelayh's work now appears to me to possess a nostalgic quality about it. The agreeable clutter of inherited possessions, common enough in most households early this century, and even between the wars, is becoming more and more of a memory as people find themselves crammed into flats and pressured into the purchase of modern purpose-built furniture.' (ibid Noakes, p. 32)
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