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John Lavery 1856 - 1941

Photograph of a painting by John Lavery.

A Stranger

Oil on canvas 19 ¾ x 19 ¾ inches. Signed by the artist and dated 1883

Provenance: H. M. Temple;

Temple Sale, Bennett Sons & Bond, Buckingham,

20th September, 1946, lot 269 as The Intruder ;

thence by descent;

Fine Art Society, London, June 1994;

Private collection;

Christie’s, London, lot 18, Dec. 8, 1998;

Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin;

Private collection, Dublin.
Exhibited: Old Salon, Paris, 1884?;
Fine Art Society, London, 1994;

This enchanting work by Lavery is one of a small group of important transitional paintings produced in France between of 1882 and 1885. These formative years produced some of his most memorable paintings including The Bridge at Grez, which he began in 1884 and his remarkable masterpiece of 1885, The Tennis Party. At the Salon exhibition of 1883 Lavery gained a certain amount of notoriety by the unexpected success of a painting he had started the previous year at Nogent-sur-Marne. Les Deux Pêcheurs was hung on the line next to Manet’s Bar at the Folies Bergères and was sold to the father of the sculptor Rene de Saint Marceaux. Although untraced, it is possible to conceive an image of the painting from Walter Shaw-Sparrow’s description of the scene that portrayed two small figures fishing from the banks of the river Marne.

Besides the reassurance gained through the sale of the painting, Lavery was further motivated by the popularity of the work amongst his fellow artists. According to Shaw-Sparrow, “the sketch had given him no trouble at all, unlike the first subject pictures done with so much care in London and Glasgow. He had added several inches to his stature without taking pains. Nature had got into his work unperceived, and sent a ripple of her wind over the painted water and through the painted sky.” Further inspiration came by way of Jules Bastien-Lepage. Lavery, and just about every other painter in France, had come under his spell. When the artists of the colonies gathered to eat and drink in the evenings his overpowering naturalist paintings were the centre of most conversations.

There is a strong possibility that our painting is La Rentrée des Chèvres, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1884 and long regarded as missing. It is important to note that all three titles fit the narrative of our painting. A translation of the 1884 title may refer to the return of the goats after grazing in the forest. In the 1886 title the stance of the goats suggests that the couple are intruders. An interpretation of the current title may suggest that a stranger is approaching the girl herding her goats. If this were so, it would mean that the work was not painted at Nogent-sur-Marne as suggested in Christie’s catalogue entry. Walter Shaw-Sparrow refers to the painting in his 1911 biography. “And a fondness for animals dates back to 1884, and the first enchanting time at Grès. In that year, at the Old Salon, he exhibited La Rentrée des Chèvres.” Although our painting is dated 1883 it was often the case that paintings were first exhibited in the year after they were painted. The important point is that he refers to the work as being a painting from Grez. Even if this is a second version of the Salon painting, it must be recorded as a painting from Grez unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise. More than likely, the setting for the painting is in the forest of Fontainebleau.

There is also the strong possibility that the painting was next exhibited in 1886 at the Glasgow Institute as Intruders thus solving the whereabouts of another untraced painting. When this painting was purchased in 1946 it was catalogued as The Intruder . This title almost certainly relates to the 1886 painting. However, it does raise the question as to why the painting was exhibited with a title that differed from its inscription. One explanation may be that the painting was unsold in Glasgow and was inscribed later. This appears to have been a practice of Lavery. Indeed it was a practice of many artists to change the title of a work unsold at a previous exhibition. It is likely that the vendors in 1946 were aware of the Glasgow Institute provenance and chose this title in preference to the current one. This would certainly have made the painting more saleable. There is no doubt that this is the painting sold in 1946. The painting remained in the same family since then and passed from father to son before the 1994 sale.

The canvas is closely related to On the Road to Fontainebleau, painted in the following year of 1884 when Lavery had established a studio at Grez. It is interesting to draw attention to the common features of the two paintings and their relationship to other works from these years, described by Shaw-Sparrow as a transition period. In both works, a tweed-clad gent plays the central role whilst in conversation with a young girl. Lavery introduces a herd of goats in one and, in the other, a flock of sheep. The girls in both paintings are portrayed as they go about their daily tasks, one returning from market, and the other tending to her goats.

These were indeed transitional paintings for Lavery, a break from the carefully composed academic pieces that had gone before. However, Lavery continued to apply the tried and tested principles of sound composition practiced by the traditional masters and instilled in the students of the academies. For such a young artist, he displays a deep understanding of these principles.

There is another point of interest in comparing the two paintings. Both contain a compositional device that is found in many Glasgow School paintings of the period. The eye is lead in to the painting by the placement of a slender tree positioned close to the right hand edge and very much to the foreground. The tree is usually shown devoid of foliage, straight and upright, the object being to create a strong linear effect. Another example of the device is to be found in La Pecheuse, painted on the river at Grez in 1884 (Sotheby’s, London 2nd June 1995). Lavery did not confine use of this device to tree trunks. He applies the same principle in The Tennis Party where the upright post of the back netting serves the same purpose. He is even more inventive in employing the device in The Musical Ride, 1888, where he uses a tall flagpole to consolidate an otherwise empty foreground. The technique is also employed in the 1883 painting A Grey Summer’s Day, Grez.

Photograph of a painting by John Lavery.

On the Road to Fontainebleau

Oil on canvas, 18 1/4 x 18 1/4 inches. Signed by the artist and dated 1884

Provenance: Mr. Wood, Torphichen, West Lothian, Scotland, purchased circa 1914;
to his wife, Mrs. Wood;
to her daughter, Mrs. Mina Shaw;
to her son, Mr. Geoff Shaw, Glasgow;
to his wife, Sarah, now Mrs. Sarah D. MacIntyre, Renfrewshire;
Christie’s, Scotland, lot 730, Edinburgh, 27 Nov. 1996;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin
, 1996
Private collection, Dublin.
Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1884 as Early Morning;
Aberdeen Artists' Society, 1885, number 589 as Early Morning

The discovery of this painting is an important addition to the recorded works of John Lavery.  In comparison to his later years, the output from this period is relatively sparse, with paintings from Grez being particularly rare. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who spent many years painting in Grez, Lavery’s visits were very short. Nathaniel Hone spent the best part of twenty years in the nearby village of Barbizon, while Frank O’Meara was resident in Grez for almost ten years. Lavery spent only a short time on his first visit to Grez in 1883. Having struck up a strong friendship with O’Meara, he returned to Grez and stayed for the best part of the following year. The practice amongst the artists in Grez, especially Frank O’Meara, was to paint on grey days only. Although Lavery’s output from the period does not reflect an overall grey tonality, the general practice of painting only intermittently, may explain why there are so few paintings to be found. Lavery grew very fond of Grez, but saw that his career could not be furthered from this remote corner. By 1885 he had returned to Glasgow.  

At the time this work was painted, Lavery, like so many other artists, was under the influence of the French naturalist painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage. Here, Lavery applies one of the principles which Bastien-Lepage had instilled in the young artist - a sense of movement. By placing the girl behind the horse and rider, Lavery suggests a conversation which has just finished. The horse is about to walk on, the head of the rider is about to turn as he takes up his right rein, the girl is about to step forward and continue her walk back towards Grez. Further movement is suggested along the road by the flock of sheep as they are herded to their pasture. All this activity is set off against the stillness of the River Loing with trees reflecting in the early morning light which breaks through the forest in patches along the path.  

Another interesting feature is the placement of the thin sapling in the foreground, a composition device borrowed from Bastien-Lepage which became a hallmark of the Glasgow School. Lavery used the same motif in a number of other works of the period, for example, La Pecheuse and Under the Cherry Tree, both painted in Grez in the same year as the current work and in a companion painting, A Stranger, painted in the previous year of 1883. This might the painting exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts in 1884 under the title Early Morning. Apart from the date, this certainly fits with the long shadows cast by the early morning sun as it rises from the East. The rider is on the road from Grez to Fontainebleau, which lies to the North West.

Photograph of a painting by John Lavery.

A Wet Day, Concarneau

Oil on canvas, 11 x 13 inches. Signed by the artist

Inscribed verso with title
Provenance: Christies, London, May 1996;
Private collection, Dublin
Exhibited: Leicester Galleries, London, ‘Cabinet Pictures by John Lavery’, November 1904, number 29;
Peintre Irlandais en Bretagne, Musee de Pont-Aven, June 1999

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Lavery spent his early years painting in Barbizon rather than Brittany but he did travel there in 1903 to visit his friend, the American painter Alexander Harrison. They had painted together in Grez some twenty years earlier. Very little has been recorded about the visit and it may be that this is the only work to commemorate the event. However, there is a possibility of a second painting. The following year in London, at the Leicester Galleries exhibition, one of the pieces was called A Grey Day at Concarneau, a title reminiscent of Barbizon days. However, this may be the current painting, shown under a different title, especially when we consider that the painting itself describes more accurately a grey day rather than one that is wet. In any event, the canvas is a rarity and suggests what might have been if Lavery had found the time to spend a few seasons there. The hustle and bustle of the port is captured with great ease and freedom and makes an interesting comparison to O’Kelly’s work in Concarneau.

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, John Lavery.

An East Wind

Oil on canvas laid on board, 10 x 14 inches. Signed by the artist
Inscribed: To The Countess Becdelievre from John Lavery 1912
Inscribed verso in the artists hand with title

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, June 1991

By 1912, Lavery had become one of Europe's most popular artists whose patrons arrived from all quarters. It may be that the Countess was amongst them. Descended from the early 15th century noble Breton family of Pierre de Bec-de-Lievre, Ruvigny lists three Countess Becdelievres in ‘The Titled Nobility of Europe’ in his 1914 publication.

Lavery’s escape from the pressure of work was an annual winter season in Tangier. On his first visit there in 1890, he became enthralled with the light and the warmth and returned each year. He eventually bought a house and set up a studio where he spent his happiest days. Many of his best compositions were produced in the freedom of these surroundings. According to Walter Shaw Sparrow; "Lavery's colour as a painter underwent a gradual change after his first visit to Africa. It was seldom a change of key; perhaps I may call it a fattening of tone and a greater breadth and resilience in the effective harmony of his paint." This is very much in evidence here. We can also see his preoccupation with capturing the mysterious light reflected off the water.

 Photograph of a painting by John Lavery.

The Southern Sea

Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches. Signed by the artist

Inscribed verso with title and address at 5 Cromwell Place, London SW1

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, December 1993

The seascapes often show a small group of figures at the water’s edge but, in a similar fashion to Hone, Lavery also took great delight in a straightforward portrayal of the sea. The lustrous quality of light and atmosphere demonstrates the spellbinding effect the coastline had on him. Built up with linear bands using a myriad of blue and green hues, Lavery portrays not only the vista in front of him but also the sound of the sea, the heat of the day and the softness of the breeze. The view is across the Straits of Gibraltar with the low hills of the Spanish coast on the horizon line. The SW1 address inscribed on the back suggests that the painting may be as late as 1917.

Photograph of a painting by John Lavery.

The Angler

Oil on board, 10 x 14 inches. Signed by the artist

Inscribed verso with title and dated 1911
Provenance: Private collection, Dublin
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, December 1999

Built up in definite blocks of solid colour, this painting shows the same stretch of Tangier coastline. The composition is unusual as it is clearly executed in the mode of a holiday snapshot. The figure was originally drawn to a much larger scale and subsequently reduced in size. The ghost of the original composition is visible. There is a certain degree of intimacy about the sketch which might suggest that the angler was his wife, Hazel.

Photograph of a painting by John Lavery.

Beau Lieu

Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches. Signed by the artist

Inscribed verso with title and dated 1921
Provenance: Sotheby's, London, May 2005;
Private collection, Dublin
Exhibited: Royal Academy, London, 1921, number 91;
Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, 1941, number 338;
Leicester Galleries, London, Memorial Exhibition, 1941, number 35;

At first glance, this appears to be another of Lavery’s Tangier scenes. Indeed, he must have felt very much at home, at least with his palette, when he produced this jewel-like view of Beaulieu-sur-mer on the cote d’Azur. Lavery painted a number of similar canvases along this exotic coastline, producing views of the neighbouring Villefrance, Cap Ferrat and St. Jean. It is interesting to compare his approach to that of Nathaniel Hone’s more sombre views of the same scenes, painted half a century earlier. Lavery’s preoccupation here is in capturing the light on the distant hills, the vivid patches of blues and greens on the water and the stark white sand of the foreground. In common with the Tangier paintings these elements are worked in horizontal bars, skilfully blended into one hazy, shimmering mass. The dramatic cliffs of Mount Boron reach up above the town as it shines out like a solid mass of white that appears to be reflected off the rock faces.

John Lavery was orphaned by the age of three and spent his formative years on his uncle's farm, south of his native Belfast. His father ran a public house but eventually ran into financial difficulties. A relative in Ayrshire took in John at the age of ten and so began the Lavery association with Scotland. An apprenticeship to a photographer as a retoucher was his introduction to an artistic career. He attended classes at Glasgow's Haldane Academy of Art followed by further studies in London and Paris.

Glasgow had become John Lavery's adopted home. He returned there in 1885 to set up his first studio. From here, he sent work to the London exhibitions. He chose shows such as those organised by the New English Art Club rather than the more established academic halls. With his reputation growing and an increasing demand for his portraits, Lavery moved to London in 1896 and established his Cromwell Place studio two years later. He rose rapidly to fame and within a short period he became one of the most sought-after portrait painters of his day.

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