The Slade School syllabus of Stanley's day provided under Henry Tonks a
grounding in drawing and composition, but gave less emphasis to the
of painting. Although Stanley frequently complained of this gap in his
it did not prevent him as a twenty-one year old from painting his
superb Self Portrait of
1913/14, in every way as accomplished as that
of the young Turner or of the nineteen-year-old Samuel Palmer.
Moreover, his brother Sydney wrote at the time in his diary, he has
done it all with penny brushes!
One effect of Stanley's relative lack of painting instruction was that
had to overcome the more difficult problems by trial-and-error, and was
always delighted when
he felt he had achieved a result comparable to that of the great
Ian Kellam as a young music student in the later 1950s used to visit
at his Cookham cottage, and
remembers being called upstairs on one occasion
to the front bedroom Stanley used as a studio to be excitedly shown the
with which he had painted the ripples round the swans in his then
Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta.
Two other successes Stanley records in his memoirs are the wet sponge
in the Burghclere panel Ablutions, for
which he borrowed his wife Hilda's bath sponge, and the fur robes in
his portrait of Jack Martineau as Master of the Guild of Brewers.
took the trouble to visit the National Gallery to see how his fur
and came away convinced that his was as good as Titian's.
His magnificent portrait of his first wife Hilda called Hilda
and Unity with Dolls,1937, and the astonishing nudes of
his second wife Patricia also done
in the 1930s (and so distinct in character from his other work) yield
no painter in their technical accomplishment.
Later, in the 1950s, Stanley began to feel the onset of mortality.
Desperate to complete as many as he could of his visionary paintings at
a time when he was under
pressure from his dealer Tooth to fulfil the commissions for
landscapes and portraits which his celebrity had attracted, he began to
thin the paint on his visionary work, enabling it to dry quickly and
allowing him to work on it at short notice. These
thinner colours, sometimes applied so lightly that the underlying pencil
composition shows through, have been labelled his boiled sweet colours, and have
become the subject of some artistic criticism in the academic sense.
Stanley, it was more important to use the
time left him to convey the 'messages' of his great paintings
than it was to comply with scholastic criteria. In any case,
it is a matter of dispute as to whether these ‘boiled sweet’ colours
did necessarily diminish his presentation. They can, for example, be
said to lighten the mood of Christ
Preaching at Cookham Regatta to convey the sense of universal
happiness he wanted the picture to express.