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Lot 58: CHARLES SPENCELAYH 1865-1958

Victorian & Edwardian Pictures

by Sotheby's

December 13, 2005

London, United Kingdom

Charles Spencelayh (1865-1958) Please Register/Login to access your Invaluable Alerts

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measurements note
51 by 36 cm., 20 by 14 in.

signed l.r.: C. SPENCELAYH.; inscribed on the stretcher: The Cause of all the Trouble

oil on canvas


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 dusty mantle clocks, chipped porcelain and battered volumes of books handed down through the family and the miscellany of worn furniture; these all have their quaint appeal. 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 deep in concentration to the scratches and splits in the wood of the table. The dexterity that Spencelayh demonstrates in the rendering of something as ordinary as a match box or an old iron key demonstrates the artist's affection for these trappings of civilised homeliness with which we surround ourselves behind every living room door. These arrayed items were of course the decorations of Spencelayh's own home and the work 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.

Bric-a-brac and old furniture was as important to Spencelayh as the human figures that inhabit his cluttered interiors. Each item was carefully chosen for its symbolic reference to time or domesticity, to fading history of a bygone era. Each item was part of the household inventory of Spencelayh's own life, a selected item from the shelves and mantle-pieces of his home collected over years of occupation. Thus we see items appearing time and time again, some favourites appearing in paintings from decade to decade. The battered tripod table upon which the old timer is piling the contents of his frayed pocket also appears prominently in The Old Dealer of 1925, Peep into the Long Past of 1956. The Staffordshire porcelain figure group on the mantlepiece also features in Examining Slides and the candle-stand appears in Time for Bed and The Doctor Oiling Clock. The clock measures a grandfather's remembrance of a WWI soldier lost in the conflict in Two Minutes' Silence and is lovingly repaired by The Old Clock Maker.

A tiny picture exhibited by Spencelayh at the Royal Society of Miniature Painters in 1914 entitled Economy has a similar subject of an old man reviewing the contents of his pocket and deciding whether he has anything of value to pawn. Meditation (sold in these rooms, 7 June 2005, lot 72) also depicts the poverty of old age. The Cause of Trouble takes a less bleak view and expresses Spencelayh's sense of humour.

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