Waugh, The Royal Academy and Charles Spencelayh

Duncan McLaren has posted a new article on his website addressing Evelyn Waugh’s admiration of the works of the painter Charles Spencelayh (1865-1958). The paintings of Spencelayh were regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy, and the artist was an active Academy member and a participant in the Academy’s work. McLaren tracks Waugh’s visits to the Academy’s annual exhibitions in the late 1940s and the discussions of Spencelayh’s paintings in Waugh’s correspondence with his friends. Illustrations of the paintings discussed are also posted with the article along with excerpts from relevant Royal Academy catalogues. The article opens with this identification of Waugh’s interest in this painter:

From 1946-48, Spencelayh showed two or three paintings each year at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition which ran from early May to the beginning of August. That was a regular date in Waugh’s calendar. I don’t suppose he missed a year from 1945 to 1956, though I can’t say so for sure. The Royal Academy was – and still is – located at Burlington House on Piccadilly. A stroll from White’s Club or the Hyde Park Hotel. In other words, smack in the middle of Waugh’s London.

After some interesting observations of the several paintings and how they may have contributed to some of Waugh’s writings (in particular The Loved One), McLaren concludes the article with this:

…Did Evelyn Waugh see himself as turning into one of the old men that Spencelayh lavished so much time and attention on? I think so. Spencelayh gave them such gravitas that it must have seemed a most natural and somewhat desirable fate. But Evelyn wasn’t ready yet to go gently into that good night. After all, he was only 45, for heaven’s sake. Waugh took the bull by the horns and arranged to go to America for the back end of [1948]. At Life‘s expense (the magazine paid for all Evelyn’s transatlantic travel, luxury accommodation and considerable food and drink) he toured the country with a view to writing a long article about Catholicism in the United States, a piece that would eventually appear about a year later.

The full article is available here  and is highly recommended. It provides an insight into a little known aspect of Waugh’s art appreciation.

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