Dr Joshua Bierer was a psychiatrist, who Spencer visited for some time during the 1940s. The Artist’s interest in psychology had been kindled by his mistress in Port Glasgow, Charlotte Murray, who had studied with Carl Jung. Through her influence, Spencer was persuaded to offer himself for analysis. He chose to see his first wife Hilda’s doctor, Dr Joshua Bierer. Bierer was a war refugee, who practised Jungian theories of psychology and was conducting research into ways of using art in psychotherapy.
In terms of portraiture, the present work is a tour-de-force of characterisation and painterly skill. Spencer recorded that it was executed at the doctor’s surgery at 224 Finchley Road, Hampstead. By placing his subject in familiar settings and posed, or rather simply seated, in his usual way, Spencer creates a relaxed yet formally satisfying portrait, which at the same time is strongly revealing of the sitter’s personality. Bierer is depicted deep in thought – bespectacled, head resting on hand – as though listening to his patient with great intent. Spencer renders the fine cut and cloth of his jacket, the starched white collar and folded silk tie with great ability. It is, however, in the painting of the flesh itself that Spencer truly excels. In a manner that pre-figures the acute observation and vigorous painterly handling of Lucian Freud, Spencer captures perfectly the texture of Bierer’s ageing skin, the wrinkles on his brow, faint shadow of a moustache under his nose and the folds in the cheek around his hand.
Spencer’s method of capturing every detail of the scene with minute care, which is seen in his exquisite landscapes, is also applied in this portrait. He has paid considerable attention to the background details. There are fine passages of painting to be found in the upper right of the corner of the composition. The contrast of textures between the soft folds of the heavy curtains, against the hard polished surface of the chair is particularly notable. Through the window, a small landscape with wooden fence, trees and neighbouring houses, provides an escape from the close viewpoint that Spencer has adopted to examine the sitter. The unflinching intensity of observation at the heart of this portrait suggests that Bierer was not alone in performing analysis in his meetings with Spencer.
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