Garden of Earthly Delights: Erotica at Carrick Hill

Gone from Carrick Hill before it became a public collection are three Stanley Spencer erotic paintings and William Dobell's 'The Duchess Disrobes' (two versions). Smith examines the nature of the collection of works by Sir Edward and Lady Ursula Haywood.

Indecent Deaccessions: Gone from Carrick Hill was a longer version of this article for last year's exhibition and symposium Bohemian London. That title indicated a museological issue: did Sir Edward and Lady (Ursula) Hayward lose their nerve while planning the bequest to the South Australian public of their house, garden and art collection at Carrick Hill?

The once private collection had begun, during their 1935 honeymoon and other pre-war visits to Britain, with paintings by Stanley Spencer and Augustus John. After a slow wartime decade, overseas art campaigns were renewed in 1948. Yet the collection, eventually "vested in the Crown" was much tamer than before the making of their wills in 1970. On opening to the public in 1988 it seemed to be mostly British gardenscapes and flower pieces.

Stanley Spencer's are the most numerous (there are eight such paintings), and some flower pieces are by Ursula Hayward herself. Perhaps the widower believed his wife, who had bequeathed her beautiful, secluded hillside property to the State, was best memorialized by flowers and gardens. But she was much more interesting than that. Gone from Carrick Hill before it became a public collection are three of Spencer's now celebrated erotic paintings. And among the Haywards' Australian works, said to have been his collecting area more than hers, two versions of William Dobell's grungy The Duchess Disrobes, 1936, are gone from the public version of the collection. So is Dobell's little boy peeing, a picture that had been hung, in sympathy with male users, on a side wall of the visitors' lavatory.

Jeffrey Smart in 1996 remembered besides the porno Stanley Spencers, another extraordinary work: 'The Goya in the library', "an oil, quite small, very dark", one of the 'black' ones, of a pussycat sniffing a whore's own pussy, in front of a drunken band shadowy in the background of a bar. His memory drawing of the composition showed a woman crawling away from the viewer, skirts hoisted above her naked bum.
Still at Carrick Hill is a now doubtfully authentic Daumier watercolour of a male artist lasciviously drawing a female model's rear end. A painting by Forain, c1900, another dissolute male artist perving on an unpretty female model, was chosen by Ursula Hayward in preference to a courtroom scene first offered her. There is still one figure subject by Stanley Spencer, a lithograph of his The Marriage at Cana: Bride and Bridegroom, 1953, in which the man's gaze is focused on his bride's white-gowned behind. And there is a pair of porcelain ashtrays in the form of frilly-skirted women's bums, inscribed Butt snuffers. His taste or hers? (The Haywards were both heavy smokers.)

Some friends and family remember 'Bill' as rather a 'vulgarian', or a 'square'. However, John Dowie – small female nudes by him are in the collection – remembers Ursula particularly enjoying the double entendre humour of their big-bottomed bathing-beauty postcards by Donald McGill..

My introduction to The British Collection at Carrick Hill (1991) had assumed that the only remaining blatantly erotic item, a drawing by Augustus John of a naked woman lying back to enjoy being fingered by a man was one of the husband's choices. Not so. Dame Roma Mitchell, before launching the book, gently rebuked the author: it was Ursula's taste.

Jeffrey Smart again: "When A.J.A. Symons [author of The Quest for Corvo] died Ursie bought [at auction] a lot of Corvo's letters ...Some were 'procurers letters', promising Pirie Gordon or Henry S. Tuke [a late-Victorian painter of nude boys] this or that person, and with salacious descriptions of what they could do, and describing their persons....They are really beautifully obscene & we loved them."
So, the collection seems to have two unusual features – a particular interest in wide-ranging sexualities, especially female – and also a more general character, for the receptive viewer of a warm, undercurrent kind of sexiness.

For example, the irises, sunflowers, daffodils, roses, lilies, the William Morris-style needlework of pomegranate, vine and apple, and especially the exotic botanical set-piece prints from Dr Thornton's The Temple of Flora, 1801-04 (The winged passion flower, The dragon arum, The Queen), can become as proudly sexualized as Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings. Or a clothed female sunbather by Ivor Hele, 1937, and a nude boy sunbather by Dobell, 1933, might be bodies waiting silently, like flowers, for a sun-blest sexual fate.

More highly charged is George W. Lambert's painting of a pair of wrestlers, lit with Caravaggist drama to give the illusion of naked males in grimacing embrace. Balancing the male fighters/lovers are two absorbed female observers, with small children. So this black painting can be read as an Edwardian mothers' educative lesson in awareness of sexual ambiguity.

The Haywards, who knew the Australian and British art scenes well, would have recognized more than meets the eye in some of their portrait subjects.
Gwen John's Soeur Marie Celine, c1915-20, is of a chaste bride of Christ, but it is by a great female artist, famous for her unchaste love affair with the great sculptor, Auguste Rodin. The artist behind – or within – the work of art that was, naturally, of absorbing interest to the artist Ursula Hayward.

Dobell's Archibald Prize-winning Portrait of an artist (Joshua Smith) , 1943, became the most notorious painting in Australia because of the courtroom challenge to the prize. It was a Hayward possession for nearly ten years, until its destruction in a fire in the library. The collection also once held a handsome 1932 self-portrait of Dobell, and those in the know would have smiled at the presence together at Carrick Hill of the two presumed war-service homosexual lovers.

Of Stanley Spencer's three lost paintings, two were reclining portrayals of his second wife, Patricia Preece, who had snared the willing Spencer in marriage and then separated from him a few months later. As described by Simon Schama, she was an "aspirant artist, fashion plate and lesbian".

From just before the marriage there is Nude (Portrait of Patricia Preece, or Girl Resting), 1936 [Bell, no. 222], despite its title, provocatively semi-nude, and restless. Legs and arms are bare, fingers and toes are emphasized. A black velvet ribbon adorns her hair and she wears a black lace chemise through which a rosy nipple peeps. One hand fiddles restlessly with her toes while staring boldly back at the besotted artist, and at us the viewers. The luxurious undergarment must be part of 2000 pounds worth of jewellery and clothing bought by Spencer for Patricia during the two years of courtship. Comparing his two wives: "In spite of my excitement at Hilda's inelegance, I have a passion for [Patricia's] feminine daintiness and elegance, and & it fits more with my sexual needs &". The black-lace Patricia was at Carrick Hill for only the twelve years to 1966. Geoffrey Dutton thinks he remembers it in the Haywards' main bedroom: a feminine lesbian among rumpled sheets and pillows, staring out from a painting at a real bed.

The other Patricia picture [Bell no.167. titled Nude] was scarcely a portrait. Entirely nude but for two gold bangles, her face is turned away from the viewer; clasped hands have drawn her knees up to cover her chest and expose her buttocks. At first sight innocent and dreamy, one eventually notices that just beyond the great foreground thigh she is apparently self-pleasured by one of her pretty feet. The painting was outlined on canvas two years before their marriage, then completed five years after the separation. Spencer's comment confirms that the seemingly masturbatory heel was the starting point: "Fortunately I had [c1935] drawn the feet or at least the more difficult one turned forwards...".

Bought in 1954 along with the black-lace Patricia, this Nude is later remembered hanging not at Carrick Hill but on the staircase at the Haywards' beach house at Port Willunge. It was sold about 1981.

Finally, the most startling of their paintings by Spencer was Beatitudes of Love: Seeing, 1938 [Bell no. 274c]. It is the third in a series of ten, of which the artist said: "...the religious quality I had been looking for and had never found in my work hitherto, now in my sex pictures showed itself for the first time..."

In this Beatitude Hilda stand naked on a large double bed while Spencer clambers out of this trousers, steadied by one hand on her shoulder. "This", he said, "comes next to the altarpiece [in the Church House, where the series was intended to hang in cubicles off the aisles] of all the husband and wife undressing pictures. Her body gazes in wonder at him and throws kisses to him. While her mouth says nothing, her breasts and armpits and navel converse with him."

David Dridan, who helped Sir Edward with the collection, especially after Ursula Hayward's death in 1970, remembers that Spencer's Seeing, which had left the collection by 1968, was shown to him unstretched, pulled out from under a bed in a dressing room.

Perhaps it was only shown to artists. Jeffrey Smart was there in London when it was bought in 1948:

The Beatitudes of Love-all wildly indecent... Ursula bought Seeing from him... Hilda had pulled apart her combination underwear to display two enormous breasts – one was cancerous and larger than the other – and a huge hairy vagina& Down in the right hand corner little Stanley was pulling down his pants to gamely tackle the monstrous Hilda& When they were packing up, they felt apprehensive about customs in Adelaide. A painting... had just been banned from an exhibition in Brisbane on the ground that it showed pubic hair. Nora (Heysen) said that she was going back to Adelaide shortly with a lot of flower paintings, why not include the Spencer with her works?

Seeing waited in London: "Nora put it up on the mantel shelf so she could see it every day..[She] liked it because she said the patchwork quilt was so exquisitely painted."
Oh really? Nora Heysen in her own paintings indeed showed some interest in decorative background fabrics, checks and stripes. But surely, like any young woman, especially coming from a sheltered life in the Adelaide Hills, she would also would have been extremely interested in a representation of a powerful woman, and in a representation of love.

The presence of love was and still is a remarkable though now muted, quality in the collection. That continuing presence is of far greater interest than the museological issue of private – collection sanitization prior to going public. If the lost paintings were still there, today's post-feminist world would surely have appreciated the collection's display of female curiosity about sexuality and intimacy. It is doubtful whether the bequest was planned, in the 1960s, and received by the State, with a clear understanding that a house museum is always a social history museum in which past personal lives are the heart of the matter.

A watercolour Weeping Rose, c.1825, by Redouté, achingly beautiful, long before its purchase by flower-painter Ursula Hayward, had been a gift of friendship from the artist to the novelist Honoré de Balzac. And Carrick Hill's most wonderful work, Gauguin's little fan-shaped watercolour on tapa cloth, is also both a representation of love and a token of love.

It is Gauguin's first work done on arrival in indigenous Tahiti, his place of easy love-making in a house surrounded by Polynesian women and gorgeous flowers. Its first owner received it in Paris as a gift to keep as a souvenir of a friend gone to the other side of the world. Its last owner, Jeffrey Smart tells us, also received it as a keepsake for the other side of the world: "The Gauguin was given to Urs by a London woman friend. Jac (Jacqueline Hick) and I had supper with them that night & Urs was very thrilled."
Love still hovers in the air at Carrick Hill.

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