The New Moon, Moonrise signed 'J Lavery' (lower right); further signed, titled and dated 'THE NEW MOON/MOONRISE/JOHN LAVERY/09' (verso) oil on canvas 63.7 x 76.7 cm. (25 1/8 x 30 1/4 in.)
PROVENANCE: With Spink & Son Ltd., London Sale; Sotheby's, London, 15 November 1978, lot 17 (as Moonrise)
With careful steps a woman gingerly picks her way over rocks covered in seaweed. She is dressed in a white, three-quarter-length tropical coat that habitually accompanied her seaside sojourns on the North African coast. In a moment she will stop, raise her head, and scan a horizon broken only by a tiny sail, far off to the right. Facing her in the distance, barely visible, is a faint coastline, above which the new moon is rising.
For the painter, John Lavery, this was a familiar scene. His house stood on the cliff-top overlooking this particular beach and from the heights he had often painted the rocks stretching out into the bay in full sunlight and at dusk, on calm and rough days (see for instance A Rough Sea, c.1907-8, Paisley Museum and Art Galleries). The sea, in all its moods and colours fascinated him - a single continuous plane stretching to the horizon, its shimmering surface reflected the sky in pools of opal and azure, and studies looking down from the cliff-top are invariably distinguished by high horizons. There were also occasions like this, when, in the cool of the evening he took his easel down onto the beach and worked under moonlight, giving more prominence to the delicate hazy blues of the sky. When shown as a group in 1908 these studies were praised as 'charming and original works ... in which the romantic element is prominent' ('Studio Talk', The Studio, vol xliv, 1908, p.70, Fig.3, The Seashore, Moonlight, is illustrated p.71).
For his model, this experience in the winter of 1909-10 was new. In the previous July, Lavery and she were married at Brompton Oratory and after a brief honeymoon in Southend-on-Sea, Hazel Trudeau, a beautiful young American widow, returned to the studio in 5 Cromwell Place, Kensington to act as consort to the busy portrait painter. Thereafter she and her daughter, Alice, made regular appearances in Lavery's work along with the painter's own daughter, Eileen.
One aspect of Lavery's life however, remained unexplored and this waited until the approach of winter. For the previous six years he had been making regular visits to his retreat on Mount Washington, one of the hills to the south of Tangier. Here, at Dar-el-Midfah, 'the house of the cannon', he was able to continue working out of doors in good light and an equable climate. He had first visited the city in January 1891 and returned for several winters before his growing international reputation led him to work in Rome and Berlin at the turn of the century. However the memory of the exotic Moroccan city perched on the 'Pillars of Hercules' overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar remained, and in the winter of 1903, he returned to establish a base and a pattern of annual visits that lasted up to the outbreak of the Great War. Hazel, arriving for the first time, would have discovered that Lavery was well-known in the expatriate community; he and Eileen had been regular guests at the British Legation and he had even been master of the Tangier Hunt (this latter appointment was less impressive than it sounds, for there were no foxes in North Africa and meetings of the hunt consisted of long gallops along the beach and occasional pig-sticking forays in the nearby hills). Hazel had no taste for these sporting activities and was content to sketch, read and explore the rock pools, and here, on what was virtually a private beach at the foot of the mount, Lavery painted her on several occasions. From these rocks, on clear days, one could see the coast of Spain as in the present work. Looking a little to the right, across Tangier bay, the mountains beyond which lay the ancient port of Tetuan were visible.
Beach scenes painted at Tangier, St Jean-de-Luz and Tynninghame, near North Berwick, count among Lavery's greatest achievements as a painter. Observation of the subtle transitions of colour, looking out to sea at dawn and dusk, he later declared, effectively cleansed a palette that was habitually attuned to the Kensington studio. 'These are journeys', wrote Walter Shaw Sparrow '...that deprive the eyesight of its nationality; and a long trip to Morocco is one enjoyable means by which a painter's London eyes can drop their London citizenship' (Walter Shaw Sparrow, John Lavery and his Work, n.d., , (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co), p.86).
Critics observed that the Tangier pictures were Whistlerian harmonies of blue and silver, sites in which a single figure addresses the immensity. Monet too had painted such scenes on the Normandy coast and in recent months Joaquin Sorolla had burst upon the London scene with dramatic canvases showing women in white on the shore at Valencia (as Vice-President of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Lavery would have had the opportunity to study seascapes with figures by both masters - Monet's La Plage au Petites Dalles, being shown in 1901 and Whistler's Blue and Silver Trouville, in 1899).
Lavery at the same time, had developed from 'a "tight" careful style to greater freedom', and 'with mastery of technique ... can give himself up more securely to the sense of colour ... in [his] paintings of the north African coast', according to Selwyn Brinton - and he was a more subtle observer than his Spanish contemporary (Selwyn Brinton MA, 'Recent Paintings by John Lavery RSA, RHA', The Studio, vol xlv, 1909, p. 172). Pictures from this sequence, the product of a long gestation were regarded as a revelation when his work was shown in a prestigious retrospective at the Venice Biennale in 1910. Shaw Sparrow suggesting that 'those from Morocco certainly helped us to understand why connoisseurs outside England have set so much store by Lavery seascapes ...' (Kenneth McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, 2010 (Atelier Books), p.107). Lavery showed 53 canvases at the Venice Biennale in 1910. There was now a crescendo of demands that a painter, honoured in 'Paris, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Madrid, Rome, Dublin, Philadelphia, Mannheim, Venice, Leipzig and New South Wales, not to mention the provincial capitals of England' should no longer be ignored by 'Burlington Bumbledom' - the Royal Academy in London. The following year, Lavery became an Academician.
The news of his election was relayed to him at Dar-el-Midfah where a new group of Tangier beach scenes featuring Hazel, Alice and Eileen was underway. The enduring fascination, so brilliantly encapsulated in The New Moon, Moonrise remained. The sand, the breaking waves, the green rocks and distant coastline were all he needed (unidentified press source, Hazel Lavery's scrapbook; quote in McConkey 2010, p. 107).
We are grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for compiling this catalogue entry.