In visual detail St Francis and the Birds [thumbnail repro Google Images 'Stanley Spencer'] can be interpreted as the complete obverse of The Lovers. In The Lovers Hilda is delineated clearly and the presence of Patricia is inferred in the imagery of Ma. In St Francis, painted a year later, it is Patricia waving a bunch of flowers who is recognisable, and Hilda who is subsumed in the imagery of the saint. In other words, there is a case for arguing that the paintings represent the two ‘opposites’ of another of Stanley’s counterpoints, and that together they could have been meant to be viewed as carrying us into Stanley’s metaphysical thought-world to show us how he longed for his tangled domestic dilemma to be resolved into its desired unity, or in elementary terms, his dream of both women as perfect wives made real.
In composing the painting Stanley combined memory-feelings from once seeing (a pregnant?) Hilda leaning against a haystack surrounded by farmyard poultry (captured in a drawing), to those of a still-fecund Pa in his dotage wandering Cookham in his dressing-gown, to those from a Fernlea maid who was notorious in his boyhood for throwing out cut flowers at the first signs of drooping (also captured in a drawing.)
It is interesting that Stanley includes himself in the painting as the acolyte in front of St Francis. His purpose is to infuse the imagery with the same mysterious but 'happy' atmosphere he described when visiting the servant's attic room at Fernlea : the setting of the painting is the side-passage of the house. He is surely telling us of his joy at being able through his art to transfigure his disturbing physical dilemma into his up-in-heaven (he uses the figures of the two children - himself and Elsie? - in The Lovers to carry the same exaltation for him.)
Whether Patricia is waving her decaying flowers
because Stanley found her sexual ability unfulfilling (they first had
sex on their second visit to Switzerland in May 1935 according to her),
or whether he feels that in her uncreative
pragmatism she holds little respect for his depth of vision, who can
As with so many of Stanley’s counterpoints, the vortex of feeling can
entered at any point the viewer wishes. There is no one meaning to the
but the effect in counterpoint is overwhelming.