Oxford art gallery director who killed himself had battled depression

Modern Art Oxford director Michael Stanley, pictured at the Pembroke Street gallery in 2010

Modern Art Oxford director Michael Stanley, pictured at the Pembroke Street gallery in 2010

First published in News
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MODERN Art Oxford director Michael Stanley took his own life at the house of one of his colleagues after a lengthy battle with depression.

He was found hanged from a tree in a Jericho garden wearing a dinner jacket, an inquest has heard.

Mr Stanley was found in the garden of a house in Adelaide Street at the age of just 37 in September and was declared dead at the scene.

He had delivered a “vibrant and critically acclaimed artistic programme” during his time as director of the Pembroke Street gallery since January 2009.

But this was against a background of serious problems with his mental health, caused by “relationship and work issues”, of which Modern Art Oxford was unaware.

At the time of his death Mr Stanley, who lived in Combe, near Woodstock, had been house-sitting for his colleague Verity Slater, the director of strategy and development at Modern Art Oxford, who was on holiday.

In a statement Ms Slater said: “I was working late when I received an email from Michael asking whether I had found someone to look after a cat.

“He said he needed some headspace and said he would be willing to look after it. There was nothing unusual about his manner and I had no cause for concern.

“Whilst away I was aware he was staying at the house and I received texts saying the cat was fine.

“On Thursday, September 20, he texted me to say thank you for letting him stay and that it had been a life-saver.”

The next day Mr Stanley was found hanged. Nathan Pyle, a former city councillor for Holywell, called the police after passing the house and seeing Mr Stanley’s body hanging from a tree.

Oxfordshire coroner Darren Salter yesterday ruled Mr Stanley took his own life “while the balance of his mind was disturbed”.

He said: “There was no note expressing such an intention [to commit suicide] but there is evidence of low moods and depression.

“Medically the cause of death is hanging.”

Mr Salter said there had been some activity on Mr Stanley’s phone at about 11pm which led him to believe he had died in the early hours of Friday morning.

There was a “moderate” amount of alcohol in his system but Mr Salter said this was unlikely to have played a significant part in his death.

Carrie Stanley, his wife of 20 years with whom he had three children, described her husband as a “workaholic”.

She said: “I am truly devastated and didn’t think that he would have taken his own life.

“His depression was an on-and-off illness he had been battling with. The first time we sought medical advice was roughly a year ago and it was a huge decision for him.”

Mr Stanley met a psychotherapist on a weekly basis and had also been prescribed with anti-depressants.

But Catherine Sage, a community mental health team manager at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, said he was “ambivalent” and “reluctant to deal with the issues he reported”.

David Isaac, chairman of the trustees of Modern Art Oxford, said: “During Michael’s time as director he delivered a highly acclaimed programme which showcased both neglected and established artists, as well as introducing the work of emerging contemporary artists.

“The gallery was unaware of his mental health status.”

MAO has set up a Michael Stanley Fund for New Art which will support new work by contemporary and emerging artists associated with the gallery’s programme.

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