Beatitudes of Love 6: Consciousness was part of a series of works in which Spencer explored the relationships between couples.
The series arose during a period immediately after the failure of his own second marriage. For Spencer, it was a time of financial difficulty and personal isolation, when he was living alone in Cookham. For many months he withdrew into the realm of his pictures as he dwelt on ideas of ‘coupledom’ of which he was no longer a part.
The sixth work in the Beatitudes series, the 2ft 6in x 22in (76 x 56cm) oil on canvas at Christie’s is a characteristically quirky picture focusing on a couple’s relationship as their bodies bend away from each other – Spencer’s writings indicate that the figures represent a dress maker a grocer’s assistant. The work had an atypically plain background which made it arguably less striking than some of Spencer’s best paintings.
The picture was previously handled by London dealer Arthur Tooth & Sons and was subsequently acquired by St John’s College, Oxford in 1954. It was displayed in the Junior Common Room until it was purchased by the vendor in 1966.
At the auction, it was knocked down on low estimate at £1.3m (£1.5m including premium) but nevertheless the work led the 37-lot sale.
Pauline Boty’s final painting
The most spectacular price of the night came for a painting of a woman’s posterior by one of the founders of British Pop Art, Pauline Boty (1938-1966). The oil on canvas was knocked down at a remarkable £520,000 against a £200,000-300,000 estimate – more than 15 times the previous auction record.
The work was titled Bum and had been commissioned by theatre critic Kenneth Tynan for his erotic cabaret Oh! Calcutta.
Boty was a well known figure on the ‘swinging London’ scene – even sketching The Rolling Stones during her illness from cancer which led to her tragic early death at the age of 28.
Bum dated from 1966 – not long before she died and was her final painting.
Bonhams’ top lot
Bonhams’ Modern British art sale on the same day was led by a small Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) sculpture that went above estimate, selling at £210,000.
Mother and Child, a 5.25in (13cm) wide ironstone work on a stone base was carved in 1934 and came from collection of art critic Herbert Read.