I went to Tate Britain today to see the Watercolour exhibition. Afterwards, I popped upstairs to see the latest paintings on display.
That was when I came across The Woolshop by Sir Stanley Spencer. I’m quite a fan of Spencer – I’ve been to his gallery at Cookham, and last year I visited the Historic Dockyard at Chatham to see his Shipbuilding on the Clyde series, newly restored and on loan from the Imperial War Museum. But I’d never heard of this painting.
The painting is full of lines – the woman’s hair, the ply of the wool, the stripes on the salesman’s jacket, even the grooves on the pillar and the pattern on some of the rugs and fabrics behind. The salesman – apparently Spencer himself – grasps a skein of blue wool above the woman’s head, but it feels as if what he really wants to do is grab her hair, just below. In his other hand he holds a roll of purple yarn. She, meanwhile, caresses a yellow skein that matches the colour of her sweater, holding it as if it were a baby.
For me this sums up the tactile experience of visiting a wool shop – all that yarn in all those colours, crying out to be handled and stroked.
Edited to add: I have since discovered that the woman in the picture was Daphne Charlton. Spencer lived with Daphne and her husband George at the White Hart Inn, Leonard Stanley, Gloucestershire in 1939-40. While George Charlton was away, Spencer had an affair with Daphne, and later painted several pictures, including this one, recording various domestic incidents of their life together.