Sir John Lavery R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941) In Morocco 63.5 x 76.2 cm. (25 x 30 in.)

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Lot 22*
Sir John Lavery R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A.
In Morocco 63.5 x 76.2 cm. (25 x 30 in.)

Sold for £ 156,500 (US$ 214,444) inc. premium
Sir John Lavery R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
In Morocco
signed 'J Lavery' (lower left); further signed, titled and dated 'IN MOROCCO/BY/JOHN LAVERY/1920' (verso)
oil on canvas
63.5 x 76.2 cm. (25 x 30 in.)


  • Provenance
    Mrs Norman Dangar, acquired in London circa 1930-36, thence by family descent
    Private Collection, Australia

    On 7 December 1919 John Lavery arrived in Tangier for the last time. During the preceding twenty-eight years he had revisited the city on many occasions, but this valedictory tour came after five years when hostile German U-Boat activity and mine-laying in the seas around Britain had ruled out both the direct route by ship to the Straits, and the English Channel crossing with its long overland journey through France and Spain. Back on that first sojourn in 1891, he had travelled alone, and now, aged sixty-three, he was en famille. On arrival he, his wife, Hazel and stepdaughter, Alice, found that the group of friends they had known prior to the war was greatly reduced, and the French authorities were tightening their grip on the city. A large new branch of 'Printemps', the Paris department store, had opened, and an esplanade had been created along the bay front. Lavery's house, Dar-el-Midfah, on the other side of the city, had been rented throughout the war to an old comrade, the Glasgow School painter, William Kennedy. Sadly, while in residence the previous year, Kennedy had died, and the house had yet to be cleared, so the first five or six weeks of the Laverys' stay were spent at the Villa Harris, now operating as an hotel.

    As always, Lavery was keen to start work, but there were practical difficulties to overcome. His car, 'the Ford', containing his painting materials was yet to be shipped, and he needed to secure the services of a chauffeur who was also a competent mechanic, if he wished to travel beyond the confines of the city. New roads had been laid by German prisoners-of-war, on which he hoped to return to Fez and explore Marrakech for the first time. The journey was planned for the end of February, but in the event, they were not ready to set off until mid- March, so with his painting kit to hand in the new year, and a solo exhibition in prospect, the artist was ready to start work - painting the ceremonial closure of the German Legation on 15 January and the funeral of an old friend, Kaid MacLean, on 6 February. At the same time several beach scenes were painted close to the Villa Harris, before his materials were stowed in 'the Ford', for the inland journey.

    Despite the fact that we know a great deal about this extended Moroccan tour, discoveries have yet to be made and one of the most remarkable of these is the present work.

    For many years in a private collection in Australia, it bears a title that Lavery had used before, for his group portrait of Hazel, Alice and their Moroccan servant in the garden at Dar-el-Midfah (see fig.1).

    When Lavery owned it, this was a small villa with a hillside garden containing a separate studio on what was then known as Mount Washington, just beyond the Marshan, where 'well-to-do Christians and Jews lived', to the west of the Tangier Kasbah. Lavery's house has been extensively remodelled since 1920 and while it seems likely that the present canvas was painted there, it is impossible to be completely certain. We may suggest that the woman in the centre, dressed in flaming red – her jacket competing with the splendid bougainvillea that flowers for much of the year in North Africa – could be Hazel Lavery. However, while her companions have yet to be identified, there are several possibilities, for all three figures. During January 1920, for instance, the Earl and Countess of Pembroke and their daughter, Lady Patricia Herbert arrived at the Villa Harris and it seems that they toured the city with the Laverys. On one occasion, Hazel Lavery reports, that their car was attacked by an 'angry crowd' of anti-French demonstrators during bread shortages in the city. It is possible that the artist's invitation to paint the Double Cube Room and Palladian Bridge at Wilton, was given during this sojourn and the three shown in the present painting are the earl, his wife and daughter.

    What remains curious is that when it came to sketching the Palladian Bridge, the painter included a woman in identical costume leaning on the parapet (see fig.2).

    Such family rendez-vous, or 'portrait interiors' would become stock-in-trade for Lavery in the years to come. Arguably the series originated earlier when in 1905 he painted the Windsor-Clives on the terrace at St Fagans in 1905, but its potential remained unrealized. Whoever these figures may be, their naturalism betrays a well-trained eye. Lavery was adept at this kind of spontaneous composing. Where others would pass by, he stopped and framed the motif. And as the shadows lengthen in the sunlit setting of a Moroccan villa, their quiet conversation murmurs up through the fragrant blossom and into a cloudless sky.

    We are grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for compiling this catalogue entry.
Sir John Lavery R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941) In Morocco 63.5 x 76.2 cm. (25 x 30 in.)
Sir John Lavery R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941) In Morocco 63.5 x 76.2 cm. (25 x 30 in.)
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