Spencer produced a series of drawings to illustrate The Ten Commandments ((Mill House Press, 1934). It is unclear as to whether one of the illustrations provided the basis for this oil composition, or that the illustration was inspired by the extant oil. A servant of the prophet Elisha, Gehazi enjoyed a position of power but was ultimately corrupt, misusing his authority to cheat Naaman the Syrian, a general afflicted with leprosy. As punishment, Elisha cursed Gehazi, transferring Naaman’s leprosy to him and his descendants forever, whereupon Gehazi turned ‘as white as snow’ (2 Kings 5.27).
In Rabbinic literature, Gehazi is identified as one of four commoners who forfeited his share in the afterlife because of his wickedness. He is the subject of a poem by Rudyard Kipling.
Biblical subject matter featured heavily in Gilbert Spencer’s early works. This seemed a natural concomitant from his training at the Slade, and the Summer Composition Competition, which frequently offered a Biblical or Classical theme for the artists’ brief. Henry Tonks was the Professor of Art throughout both Gilbert and Stanley Spencer’s tenure. Tonks was particularly fond of setting Biblical topics for this Prize, as Religious art is one of the most established genres of Western narrative painting, and demanded considerable skill of the artist tasked with both upholding this visual tradition, while revolutionising the format for a modern audience.
Other religious paintings in Gilbert Spencer’s early career include The Crucifixion (now in the collection of the Tate Gallery), which relocates this seminal scene to Cookham Meadow, as well as The Shepherds Amazed, 1920, from the Gospel of Luke, which belongs to Leeds Art Gallery. Spencer also produced a series of drawings to illustrate The Ten Commandments in 1934 (Mill House Press), and one of the illustrations was based upon the composition of Gehazi and Naaman.