My Favourite Painting: Viktor Wynd

Artist and collector Viktor Wynd chooses a haunting picture by Austin Osman Spare.

Viktor Wynd on A Love Spell by Austin Osman Spare

My obsession with Spare dates back to a party at Jimmy Page’s Tower House in the early 2000s, when I was blown away by a brooding 1927 self-portrait hanging in the loo. When I brought this drawing proudly home and propped it up in my bedroom, my lover awoke in the middle of the night to find the devil at the end of our bed, improbably sticking his tongue out. Since then, it has dominated the collection of his work in my museum.

Spare was a peerless draughtsman, hailed as the New Michelangelo. This is, I think, one of his finest drawings and I find it hard to believe that a mere mortal such as I should own such a master-piece. For me, it evokes boundless love and longing, together with great beauty, although I’m not blind to the magical powers of the spells evoked by the surrounding sigils .

Artist Viktor Wynd is proprietor of the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities. His new book, ‘The UnNatural History Museum’, is out on March 5.

John McEwen analyses A Love Spell

Austin Osman Spare’s father was a City of London policeman. As a High Anglican schoolboy, Austin was seduced by an elderly woman known as Witch Patterson, who claimed descent from the 17th-century Salem witches and taught him magic.

He attended evening art classes at Lambeth School of Art, was talent spotted and received a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. There, he rejected Christianity for occultism and wrote and published his first grimoire (spells and invocations), Earth Inferno, one of whose buyers was his fellow student and friend, the future suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst.

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In 1904, he was one of the youngest artists ever selected for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. His first major exhibition, ‘Black and White Drawings’ of 1907, was described in the journal The World as ‘stupendous and terrifying in its creative flow of impossible horrors’.

Shortly after this, he met a woman in a Mayfair pub eager to marry off her beautiful daughter Eily, already a single mother. Spare obliged and they wed the year after he made this drawing. Eily’s beatific head is surrounded by a deliberately magical number of impish, sometimes even menacing, self-portraits interspersed with sigils (magical symbols) to do with love.

The drawing is the centrepiece of ‘The Spare Room’ in The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & UnNatural History & Cocktail Bar, 11, Mare Street, London E8, the only permanent public display of Spare’s art. It shows why he earned the highest praise from the likes of G. F. Watts, Sargent and Augustus John.