Front Cover – Stanley Spencer Workmen in the House 1935 

He titled the exterior scene The Builders and the interior Workmen in the House. But the two are so different in mood that one can only conclude that they reflect the two halves of his emotional dilemma. The Builders is an amalgam of joyous images, of Fairchild's men of his boyhood lifting hods of bricks in the building of a house amid the springtime nesting of birds in the garden trees. Everything is redolent of home, cosiness, security. But Workmen in the House is composed of very different Stanley-images. His writings offer a factual description of the painting but make no reference to what must be the emotional source of the imagery, an incident he angrily describes in letters to intimates when smoke began to filter from the skirting board of the kitchen of his newly built cottage at Burghclere, Chapel View. He called the builders promptly but they refused to accept his diagnosis - that the kitchen range had been incorrectly installed. Colours are dark, claustrophobic. Space is filled, overwhelmed, threatened by the maleness of the two work­men. Stanley is not 'home' in the painting, he is merely at home, the ignored incompetent in a situation of supposed artisan effective­ness! Elsie sits putting on her gaiters. Unity plays with a clothes-peg and a gaiter. There is what Stanley called a 'wedge' motif in the painting, a forcing apart. If the workmen will, like the world at large, accept his precepts, they will be as amazed as were the workmen in the real-life incident when they had broken out the range and discovered that he was not only right but that had he not called them the cottage could have burned down.

Imputations that he was 'dreamy, impractical and incompetent' invariably touched a raw nerve in Stanley. So did assertions that he was an 'innocent'. The art critic D. S. MacColl, Keeper of the Wallace Collection, described Stanley at the time as 'queer, almost a village simpleton, but waywardly inspired', a patronizing comment which Stanley tolerated in silence because MacColl meant it in praise of his painting at a time when he needed artistic support. 

Stanley Spencer by Kenneth Pople p315