Sunday, March 24, 2013

Miss Hilda

Hilda Carline "Self-Portrait"  1923 Tate Britain


The painter Hilda Carline (1889-1950) had her reputation so completely subsumed by that of her erstwhile husband, the painter Stanley Spencer, that it becomes an exercise in frustration to do online research on her. In fact, she currently does not even have a Wikipedia biography/article to her name. Do a web search on Carline and you'll find an array of articles and links almost entirely for her husband. Click on Spencer's Wikipedia bio hoping to find more about Hilda, and in the few sentences allotted to her, if you click on what looks like a live link to her name you will get this message: Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. Nonetheless, Carline was a talented artist who showed her work in prestigious venues during her lifetime.


Here is my own quick biographical sketch: Annie Hilda Carline was born in London to a long-established family of artists. The only girl in the family, her father declined to have her professionally trained as an artist alongside her brothers, despite her obvious natural talent. Eventually he relented slightly and in 1913 permitted her to attend a small, local, art school, Percyval Tudor-Hart's Academie de Peinture, in Hampstead. This course of study was interrupted by World War 1. During the war Carline worked in the Women's Land Army in Suffolk. After the war, enabled in part by a program similar to the American G.I bill, which assists veterans with their education, she entered the well-known Slade School of Fine Art, where her talent flourished. She was a notable student at the Slade, winning numerous prizes. In 1925 she married artist Stanley Spencer. The couple had two children, and divorced in 1937. During Carline's lifetime she exhibited her work at the Royal Academy, the Goupil Gallery and the New English Arts Club. After her death her work was included in The Carline Family exhibition at Leicester Galleries in 1971, and in 1999 a solo retrospective of her work toured the UK. Her work is included in the collections of many major museums, and the bulk of her estate is held by Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Lancashire, England.


However, the sad truth is that Hilda Carline was an artist whose career was almost completely eclipsed by her marriage to a more famous artist. She met Stanley Spencer when he and one of her older brothers became friends while studying at the Slade School of Fine Art. Mrs. Carline was legendary for her salon-style hospitality and the family home was a gathering place for artists, art students and intellectuals. Spencer was apparently immediately smitten with the lovely, intense and intelligent Hilda whose return impression of Spencer was not initially as favorable: Spencer had to propose six times before finally persuading Hilda to agree to marry him.

After the couple had two children together Spencer famously left Carline for a neighbor, Patricia Preece. Carline's sister-in-law recounts what she saw as the crux of the domestic problem"Stanley got very angry at her lack of domesticity. Yet he was equally frustrated that she was not devoting any time to her painting. It had meant a great deal to him that she was also a practising artist, and he had enormous admiration for her work." As Carline became distracted from her "real work" through caring for their very young children and as her domestic duties (however "poorly performed") mounted, Spencer's attention strayed. He divorced Carline and immediately married Preece, whom he  showered with jewels and gifts in a fruitless attempt to persuade her to actually consummate the marriage. This outpouring of expense meant that he reneged on support payments to Carline and their children. Their oldest child had to be sent to live with relations so that the already decimated family could survive. Carline understandably became deeply depressed.

Carline and Spencer eventually reconciled to some degree after Spencer's relationship with Preece finally disintegrated.  Although they lived apart they visited each other frequently. When Carline lay dying of cancer, just short of her 60th birthday, Spencer remained by her side till the end.

6 comments:

Marianne Malone said...

I love this - and she is completely new to me. Thanks for introducing her!

Maureen Nathan said...

I knew about Carline's work but I think that's because I live in England where she is a little better known, but not much! Your posts are always so interesting and I love the whole idea of women in the act of painting. You might want to have a look at Rose Hilton whose work was subsumed by her more famous painter husband Roger Hilton. After his death she became much more widely known and is still painting today.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Thank you both! I learned so much researching her. I am still astonished that Hilda Carline does not "rate" her own Wikipedia page...and wonder why English art historians have let this lapse go so long unattended. Maybe someone at the Tate or the Harris or the Slade will step up to the plate, soon! If I knew "how to wiki" I'd do it myself! ;-)

Quilter's Diary said...

A sad story. I wish this were a world where women didn't have to struggle to get fair treatment.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

I agree. I wish I could rewrite how this "story" ends.

Kate Stone said...

I think she had the right idea the first five times around...