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The Beatitudes of Love, Contemplation (1938)

Painting, Oil on canvas, 1067mm x 704mm
Woman and man dancing in foreground. Crowd in background

At a time of financial difficulty and personal isolation, after a divorce followed by the immediate failure of his second marriage, Spencer embarked on ‘The Beatitudes of Love’; he withdrew into the realm of his pictures to produce a series depicting couples (‘husbands and wives’) that he hoped to place in cubicles in his projected Church House. An artist firmly rooted in his response to places, he worked instead entirely from imagination, using uncharacteristically plain backgrounds to emphasise the figures, which are amongst the most radically distorted in his oeuvre. Spencer was aware of this, but explained in a later letter, ‘…I love them from within outwards and whatever that outward appearance may be it is an exquisite reminder of what is loved within, no matter what that exterior appearance may be.’ The couple are united by the enfolding rhythm of three hands, whereas the fourth assumes a disturbingly claw-like form, and the woman’s profile is claustrophobically inseparable from the head and huge ear of the man behind. In this picture, he noted, ‘the figures are engaged in contemplation of each other, as is expressed by their rapt gaze, as though they would never stop looking.