In 1910 the tail of Halley’s comet created an exceptional sunset which so frightened ‘Granny’ Tubb that she feared the end of the world had come and knelt by her gate in Cookham High Street to pray. Not recalling her features, Spencer replaced them with those of her daughter Sarah. She is comforted by heavenly visitors who present her with ‘all those things which she loved’.
The picture is set in Cookham and is based on a story told to the artist by his father. In 1910 the tail of Halley’s comet created an exceptional sunset, which caused old ‘Granny’ Tubb to fear that the end of the world had come. She knelt by her gate in the High Street to pray. Not recalling her features, Spencer replaced them with those of her daughter Sarah. She is comforted by ‘heavenly visitors’, either angels or disciples, who present her with ’emblems of what she is like’ and ‘all those things which she loved.’ These include a papier mâché text and the postcard of Cookham church held by Spencer’s cousin Annie Slack who worked in the village shop. The postcard rack was placed daily outside the shop. On the left is a grocer who shares in ‘the peaceful atmosphere’. As Spencer explained to his dealer Dudley Tooth, he disliked ‘the idea of alarm’ and instead the picture became ‘a sort of religious fervour and the meaning of the picture is Sarah Tubb and she as part of heaven itself.’ The simplified, ample figure are characteristic of Spencer’s style at this date and in the grocer at least they are touched with a gleam of humour.
The picture was painted shortly after Spencer’s return to Cookham from Burghclere in 1932. ‘Sarah Tubb’ was designed for Spencer’s projected Church House, which was planned as a sequel to the Sandham Memorial Chapel. The Church House was to express his feelings on love and to celebrate Cookham as a village in heaven. The Church House was never built, but Spencer produced ever-expanding schemes of pictures for it, from 1932 until his death in 1959, ‘Sarah Tubb’ was probably intended for a Pentecost series in which angels and saints visit Cookham performing acts of benevolence, but it was subsumed into the overall theme of the Last Day, or the Last Judgment, the general resurrection of the dead at the second coming of Christ.