Maurice Collis, Stanley Spencer, Harvill Press, London, 1962, p.141, illustrated opposite p.128 (as Beatitudes of Love: VIII Worship);
Patricia Preece (Lady Spencer), Sunday Mirror, 'Our Marriage Crashed on Honeymoon,' 24th January 1971, illustrated p.11 (as Worship);
Louise Collis, A Private View of Stanley Spencer, Heinemann, London, 1972, pp.106-7;
Stanley Spencer, documentary directed by David Rowan, Arbor Films/Arts Council of Great Britain, 1979;
Duncan Robinson, Stanley Spencer Visions from a Berkshire Village, Phaidon Press, Oxford, 1979, p.60, 73;
Arts Council of Great Britain, Stanley Spencer 1891-1959, (exh. cat.) Robert MacLehose & Co. Ltd, Glasgow, 1976, p.22;
Jane Alison (ed.), Stanley Spencer The Apotheosis of Love, (exh. cat.) Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1991, p.16, 29, 30;
Keith Bell, A Complete Catalogue of Paintings, London, Phaidon, 1992, cat. no.274h, illustrated p.152.
The autobiographical element of Spencer's work is crucial to the understanding of his often somewhat obscure images, and this important piece from a key series of paintings offers us an insight into the turmoil and disappointment that was inherent in the artist's life at this time.
Having secured his divorce from Hilda and then subsequently married Patricia Preece in mid-1937, things had gone badly awry for Spencer. He was living at Lindworth, the large house he had bought on his return to Cookham in 1932 but as a virtual lodger having made it over to Preece in 1935. Divorcing Hilda had dealt a huge blow to the relationship that had nurtured him for so many years, and the marriage to Patricia was a marriage only in name as she continued to live at the other end of Cookham at Moor Thatch, the cottage she shared with her companion, Dorothy Hepworth. Severely in debt and emotionally battered, the Beatitudes paintings offer us a form of insight into way Spencer reacted to this situation, exploring the difficult and tender topics of love, desire and infatuation.
The Beatitudes series is usually considered as a group of eight paintings, produced in 1937-8, in which Spencer aimed to distil some of the elements of sexual attraction and involvement into images that investigate each specific theme although many of the themes he treats spill over into his other paintings of the period. This focus on a very specific element in each painting is perhaps reminiscent of the intentions of a slightly earlier series of paintings, known as the Domestic Scenes and painted in 1935-36. Taking as their subject the intimate moments of interaction between Spencer and Hilda, such as choosing a dress (fig. 2) or preparing for bed, they are curious in that they emerge at exactly the time when his real relationship with Hilda was being ended by divorce proceedings and thus perhaps presage the elements of domestic harmony that were being denied him.
In The Beatitudes, the message of harmony and togetherness of the Domestic Scenes is at best damaged, at worst splintered into jagged shards. The earliest of the group, known as Passion or Desire (Private Collection), shows two figures, the male having distinctly Stanley-like attributes and the female Patricia-like facial features but placed atop a huge body. Dwarfed by the much larger female figure, the small Stanley figure is very much in thrall to his companion and his own writings suggest this, harking towards a sense of sensual paradise apparently at odds with the malformed figures themselves.
The male figures in many of the other paintings in the series demonstrate distinctly Spencer-like characteristics, but in Beatitude 8: Worship the autobiographical elements are thrust completely to the fore. As is usual in these paintings, the male figures, all very much Stanley-type, are presented as smaller than the females, with a clear implication of subservience. The two in the foreground kneel in attitudes of fervent prayer and two further figures are presented to a waiting group of women. The dominant female figure, presented as much less distorted than her companions is usually interpreted as representing Patricia, and indeed she herself read it as this in her memoir. Her dress, an extravagant concoction of silk flowers is reminiscent of one being presented from a box in the far right corner of Love on the Moor (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and may be typical of the expensive and lavish outfits Stanley had bought for Preece. The theme of gifts begins to become tainted when one remembers the extent to which Spencer had showered Patricia Preece with lavish gifts, and which had taken him to the verge of bankruptcy. The very obvious placement of expensive perfume atomisers, cased jewellery and, even more blatantly, bundles of banknotes and piles of coin suggest Spencer's somewhat bitter yet apparently powerless position on the way in which men aim to buy, and women sell, their favours.
The distortion and in many cases outright ugliness of the figures in this series of paintings were not at all popular with his older patrons. Indeed Spencer recalled the reaction of Sir Edward Marsh, one of his most influential early supporters, to these paintings: 'It fogged his monocle...he had to keep wiping it and have another go. "Oh Stanley, are people really like that" I said: "What's the matter with them? They are all right aren't they?" "Terrible, terrible, Stanley!" Poor Eddie.' (Collis, p.144).
In the notes to the 1965 memorial exhibition of his collection, some of Evill's notes and recollections were included. For this painting he had noted:
This was painted about 1937 and is one of a series of paintings of some psychological significance made at that time. The supplicating male is seen throwing at the feet of those haughty females all those things which Stanley Spencer considered luxuries. I asked him why he had made the desired ladies so hideous; he said: 'I have painted them as they are, go and look at them in the Tube' (Note by W.A.E. to cat.no.210, Brighton 1965)
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