H. M. Temple
His sale, Bennett Sons & Bond, Buckingham, 20th September, 1946, lot 269 as The Intruder
Fine Art Society, London, June 1994
Sale, Christie's London, 8 December 1998, lot 18
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin
When he arrived in Grez-sur-Loing for the first time in August 1875 Robert Louis Stevenson described the village as a 'pretty' and 'very melancholy' place (Collected Letters, vol. 2, 1994, p. 156 ). A tiny hamlet, it had lost its raison d'être a few years earlier when the Loing canal opened and river traffic was diverted. With Stevenson's arrival its air of melancholy lifted and in subsequent years its popularity grew as an artists' haunt. The two hotels in Grez, the Chevillon and the Laurent, were well patronized, the latter being purchased in 1882 by the American painter, Francis Brook Chadwick and his Swedish wife, Emma Löwstädt, also a painter. By the mid-1880s, the village was renowned as a refuge for young American, Scandinavian, British, Irish and Japanese artists. For artists and musicians it was, as Lavery recalled, 'an inexpensive and delightful place' (Life of a Painter, p. 53).
His arrival in the summer of 1883 was the most significant moment in his career to date and it coincided with the height of the village's fame. It was, as Stevenson wrote in 1884, 'anonymously famous; beaming on the incurious dilettante from the walls of a hundred exhibitions' (Magazine of Art, 1884, p. 341). Stevenson was probably reflecting on the Salon success in 1882 of the Grez pictures by William Stott of Oldham, Louis Welden Hawkins and Frank O'Meara.
Lavery fitted in immediately, becoming friendly with the American painter, Gaines Ruger Donoho, whose portrait was sold in these rooms, 7 May 2008, lot 124, and fellow Irishman and long term Grez resident, Frank O'Meara. He set to work immediately on a large canvas representing The Bridge at Grez, (Private Collection), seen from the garden of the Chevillon. Towards the end of his stay, when the leaves were beginning to yellow, he ventured into the nearby woods, to paint the present canvas. Given Lavery's commercial instincts, this is likely to be a trysting place. In a clearing, a stranger, with his bag and walking stick leans against a tree on which a peasant woman is resting her back. Before them are four goats. Lavery may well have been led to this subject by one of his Grez painting companions, Louis Welden Hawkins, whose Les Orphelins, (1884, fig. 1), showing two young villagers, he recollected in old age, mistitling it Young Lovers (Life, pp. 54-5).
This, like its companion, On the Road to Fontainebleau, (lot 27), reveals Lavery in an experimental mood, working on a canvas toned with viridian, upon which the trees and figures are lightly sketched with a sable brush. On this 'ground', in heavier paint, leaf green, touches of ochre and pale green are added to suggest the foreground flora. The overall effect is one of density without detail. The impression of space must be created by these means alone, as there are no convenient tracks to map this dense woodland.
When Lavery returned to Grez at the beginning of 1884, the goatherd motif was transformed as he painted La Rentrée des Chêvres (fig. 2) for the forthcoming Salon.
Here, the female goatherd is replaced by a 'Jacques Bonhomme'. The contrast between the two pictures is significant. This aged peasant who retrieves his goats from the dank, marshy, leafless, winter woodland near the river would have little to say to the stranger. From this, implied narrative, the hint of young love, important for private collectors who might be attracted to The Stranger was rigorously excluded.
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