Banner: Detail of Cyril Mann (1911-1980) Self-Portrait (with double nude), 1965 © The Artist courtesy of Piano Nobile

Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting the late Cyril Mann’s second wife, Renske van Slooten, as she fondly recalled their zealous love story whilst in conversation with Director of Piano Nobile, Robert Travers.

Renske was born in Indonesia, where she lived with her family until Japan’s WWII occupation dismantled much of the Dutch colonial state and economy. Indonesian nationalists declared independence shortly after the Japanese surrendered, and Renske’s Dutch-Indonesian family was forced to recognise Indonesian sovereignty, or leave the country and all their possessions behind. Despite losing everything, the family fled Indonesia to settle in Holland. Sadly, Renske never felt truly at home there, knowing that Indonesia was where her heart had really belonged.

Renske van Slooten in front of Cyril Mann's paintings © Piano Nobile

A close friend invited the disheartened Renske to come and stay at her home in London, England, and she agreed instantly. The young Dutch-Indonesian journeyed alone from Holland to London, where she finally found comfort and happiness at a Young Women’s Christian Association. On a night out dancing, a friend suggested he introduce Renske, who was fascinated by the arts, to his teacher.

It was 1959 – the week before Christmas, when Renske first laid eyes on the struggling artist. Standing on the tips of her toes to peek through the window, she observed the painter’s evening class in awe.

From his long messy hair to the patches on his scruffy tweed jacket, Renske knew – immediately – that he would be important to her, and she to him. But struck with nerves at just 20 years old, Renske was too shy to approach the artist, who was 23 years her senior.

Cyril Mann (British 1911-1980) Renske, 1963, oil on canvas © The Artist courtesy of Piano Nobile

Fortunately for the young woman, fate was on her side, as she discovered that they took the same bus route home. They smoked cigarettes and chatted the whole way, and it was only as the double decker bus pulled into Angel, where he stood to leave, that they realised they would likely never see each other again.

Renske longed to see the troubled artist’s paintings, so he hesitantly agreed to see her the following day, promising to meet outside the old cinema in the early afternoon.

The next day, Renske dressed in her best dress and put on her high heels before rushing to the old cinema for two o’ clock. She waited and waited. An hour passed and he still didn’t show. More time passed, and he didn’t turn up. Deflated but still hopeful, Renske decided to wait just five more minutes. It was the very end of that fifth and final minute, when from around the corner, a dishevelled and flustered Cyril Mann emerged.

And so began their love story.

Cyril Mann: Painter of Light and Shadow © The Lightbox

Renske believed Cyril was extraordinarily talented, and encouraged him to give up his day job teaching to focus on his paintings, despite their financial struggles. She became lover, muse and inspiration for the artist, and the couple remained together until the artist’s death in 1980.

Cyril Mann: Painter of Light and Shadow is on display in our Upper Gallery until 31 March 2019, including nudes, landscapes and still life. Renske can be seen in many of the artist’s paintings, including those in this exhibition.