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In the Frame: ‘Dancing Cats’ by Stanley Lench

Ldbth142 Dancing Cats 1949 B

This colourful and energetic painting by Stanley Lench shows two black and white cats dancing against a patterned background.

It was painted by Lench in 1949 when he was just 14 using gouache on paper. He was a patient on the children’s ward of the Maudsley Hospital at the time as he had begun to suffer from depression as a teenager. Periods of illness and the Second World War meant that he didn’t finish his secondary schooling, but he taught himself to paint and held his first exhibition in 1955 at the Beaux Art Gallery in London. He then gained a place at the Royal College of Art in its stained glass department and I think his use of colour and shapes in this picture would have worked well as a stained glass panel.

The influence of cubism can be seen in the angular outlines and I like the fact that the cats seem very focused on their dancing and are a world away from the fluffy pets that are often pictured in paintings

His lifelong friend David Trowbridge met Lench in 1965 and told me that he the artist loved cats and had one for 25 years or more. Mr Trowbridge added: “He was a nocturnal person and painted many of his portraits at night while the rest of his family were asleep. He would be accompanied by his cat. In his early days he mixed soot with egg to obtain the colour black. He told me his cat would lick the black colour to get the egg yoke.” Another painting in the Bethlem collection is called 'Cathy with a Cat' which can be seen here. It shows a glamorous red headed woman with a cat by her side. Also in the collection are Green Cat with Figure, Abstract with Green Gat and Figure with a Blue Cat which were all painted in 1977.

Mr Trowbridge said Lench, who was born in Peckham, was fascinated by Ancient Egypt and the pair of them used to visit the British Museum in the 1960s to see the artefacts including mummified cats found in tombs. Mr Trowbridge has three or four pictures that his friend painted as an adult of cats, including two which feature an Egyptian cat. He also owns an Indian ink drawing which shows a demonic looking cat. “It is a cat with the human emotions of fear/venom. This may have been produced when he was suffering from paranoia,” he said.

After he graduated from the Royal College of Art, Lench had some commercial success but throughout his life he had periods when he produced a prolific amount of work and then long periods of reclusiveness. Mr Trowbridge said: “After graduation he shut himself away in 'Lench Lodge' - it was the name we gave to his house in Peckham."

He was treated at the Bethlem Royal Hospital and Maudsley Hospital a number of times and he donated many of his works to the hospitals.

In 2014 Mr Trowbridge put on an exhibition of Lench’s work at Stockport Art Gallery entitled “Icons” which featured his portraits of famous people.