Sir John Lavery R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941) On the Cliffs 64 x 77 cm. (25 1/4 x 30 1/4 in.)

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Lot 42*
Sir John Lavery R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A.
On the Cliffs 64 x 77 cm. (25 1/4 x 30 1/4 in.)

Sold for £ 240,800 (US$ 316,068) inc. premium
Sir John Lavery R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
On the Cliffs
signed 'J Lavery' (lower left) and further signed, inscribed and dated 'ON THE CLIFFS/BY/JOHN LAVERY/5.CROMWELL PLACE/LONDON/1911' (verso)
oil on canvas
64 x 77 cm. (25 1/4 x 30 1/4 in.)


  • Provenance:
    with Major Harry Wilson Walker
    Thence by descent to Dorcas Walker, 1959
    Gifted to the present owner from the above in 1979
    Private Collection, Canada

    Although his first seascapes were painted in the 1880s, Lavery returned to the subject with renewed energy on his visits to Tangier. By 1907 views of the harbour, the beach to the east and the cliffs to the west of the city had been painted. Distant Arab figures walking along the shore act as a foil to the immensity of space. The echo of celebrated compositions by Monet and Whistler is unmistakable.1 In the wake of the Entente Cordiale, Lavery acquired a house – Dar-el-Midfah, or ‘the house of the canon’ – near the coast to the south-west of city. This became his base for three month sojourns at the beginning of every year.2 On these holidays, the sea and the vivid colours of the Kasbah washed the London studio light from his eyes. With their rapid changes of light, the Straits of Gibraltar, often described as the place ‘where two oceans meet’, fascinated him. On one occasion a palette of deep emeralds and blue-greens was required, while on another, soft pinks and mauves were necessary.

    During these years Lavery courted Hazel Trudeau, a young widow then living in Paris. Around 1910, after their marriage, Hazel and her six year old daughter Alice Trudeau, became favourite models, replacing Arab figures in the later ‘Straits’ canvases. On the Cliffs is one such instance. We know from family photographs (fig 1) that Hazel’s tropical wardrobe consisted of long white skirts, a three-quarter length pale yellow jacket and a broad-brimmed straw hat (fig 1).3 Her daughter, whose hair was fashionably bobbed, appears in short dresses with bare legs.

    Fig 1, Hazel, John, Alice and Eileen Lavery and their Moorish servant, c. 1911, photograph, Private Collection

    Tangier at this time was increasingly lawless – perhaps providing the reason why Hazel Lavery felt uncomfortable on these annual sojourns. Sometimes rich foreigners were kidnapped and held to ransom. The local police expressed their powerlessness in needless brutality.4 There were blood-curdling fictions concerning beautiful European women travellers plucked from the crowd by Berber horsemen and carried off into the desert, never to be seen again.5 Encircled by tribal warlords and ‘brigands’, tensions in the city rose and the safety of expatriates could not be assured. As a place of great strategic importance however, the peace and neutrality of Tangier, guaranteed by a complicated patchwork of international treaties and local arrangements, was under threat. A year after On the Cliffs was painted, Morocco was declared a French Protectorate under General Lyautey and French troops crossed the Algerian border, establishing their administrative base at Fez.6 Local rebels were temporarily silenced and the infrastructure improved.

    For the painter, heedless of politics, Tangier remained a place of romance and adventure. None of its current tension is apparent in On the Cliffs. These chalk promontories appear in a number of works, most notably, in The Rising Moon, Tangier Bay, 1912 (Private Collection), a view along the north African coast. Other canvases such as A Calm Day, c.1907, The Southern Sea and The Spanish Coast from Tangier, (both c. 1911, Private Collections) were devoted to the distant profile of Andalusia. None of these show the headland with colourful foreground figures projected onto a backdrop of sea. By 1911 a vague symbolism was attached to such works. American and British Impressionists returned to early nineteenth century romantic landscape painting for inspiration. Painters from Cape Cod to Cornwall echoed Caspar David Friedrich by addressing the empty spaces of sea and sky. Early in his career, John Lavery had tackled this subject, albeit in classical guise, in Ariadne, 1887 (Private Collection), but if he truly entertained ambitions to become a classical painter, he quickly abandoned them.7 Nevertheless, figures on the edge of the abyss - whether gypsies in an Augustus John, vagabonds in a William Orpen, or an elegant Irish-American and her daughter as here - were one of the most enduring motifs of western art.

    1 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.
    2 In 1911, the Lavery entourage remained in Tangier for an extended period, not returning to London until 12 May. Throughout the latter part of his stay, the painter was anticipating interviews with Walter Shaw Sparrow whose John Lavery and his Work, (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co) was published at the end of the year.
    3 See also McConkey 1993, pp. 99-103. Hazel wears this costume with a different hat in Mrs Lavery Sketching, 1910 (Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin). She appears similarly attired in other works of the period including A Summer Day and The Angler (both, both c. 1911, Private Collections).
    4 Walter Harris, Morocco That Was, 1921 (Eland ed, 2002), pp. 127-180. Harris was The Times correspondent in Morocco. Lavery painted his portrait and the garden of his villa at Tangier. He also recounts an inland expedition which he undertook with Harris and RB Cunninghame Graham; see John Lavery, The Life of a Painter, 1940, (Cassel and Co), pp. 95-6. The general mood may also explain why Hazel and Alice were seldom out of the painter’s sight during these trips.
    5 See for instance, AJ Dawson, ‘The Powder Play’, Pearson’s Magazine, vol v, no. 11, 1898, pp. 153-164, a story of a young headstrong English woman who is scooped up by an Arab horseman at a riding display at Tangier. She is kidnapped and never seen again.
    6 Edith Wharton, In Morocco, 1920 (Traveller’s Library ed., 1927), pp. 161-173.
    7 For reference to Ariadne see Kenneth McConkey, Sir John Lavery, 1993 (Canongate), pp. 47-8.

    We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for writing this catalogue entry
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