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PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION

Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A., R.S.A.
JAPANESE SWITZERLAND
Estimate
300,000500,000
LOT SOLD. 509,000 GBP
JUMP TO LOT
12

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION

Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A., R.S.A.
JAPANESE SWITZERLAND
Estimate
300,000500,000
LOT SOLD. 509,000 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Irish Art

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London

Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A., R.S.A.
1856-1941
JAPANESE SWITZERLAND
signed l.l.: J Lavery; also titled, signed and inscribed with the artist's address on the reverse: 5 Cromwell Pl/ London
oil on panel
76 by 53.5cm., 30 by 21in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

Sir Patrick Ford;
Ian MacNicol, Glasgow, where purchased by a private collector circa 1960;
Their sale, Sotheby’s, London, 16 May 1996, lot 467, where purchased by the present owner

Exhibited

London, Royal Academy, 1913, no.693;
Manchester, Manchester Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1913, no.23;
London, Grosvenor Galleries, Retrospective Exhibition of the Works of John Lavery, 1880-1914, 1914, no.97;
Dundee, Victoria Art Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings by Sir John Lavery Kt, RA, RSA, 1936, no.30, (lent by Sir Patrick Ford);
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, 1941, no.142 (lent by Sir Patrick Ford);
London, Spink and Son, Sir John Lavery, RA, 1856-1941, 1971, no.7;
Dublin, Hugh Lane Gallery, Loan Exhibition, 1996-2015

 

Literature

Royal Academy Pictures, 1913, p.15, illustrated;
Pall Mall Magazine ‘Extra’, The Pictures of 1913, 1913, p.48; 
‘The Royal Academy – Concluding Notice’, Manchester Courier, 16 May 1913, p.6;
‘Manchester Autumn Exhibition’, Yorkshire Post, 23 September 1913, p.7;
A. Stodart Walker, ‘The Art of John Lavery ARA, RSA’, The Studio, Vol. LXII, 1914, p.4 illustrated, p.12;
J[ames] B[one], ‘Mr Lavery’s Impressionism’, The Manchester Guardian, 22 June 1914, p.3;
‘The Lavery Exhibition’, Western Daily Press, 9 June 1914, p.9;
John Lavery, The Life of a Painter, 1940, Cassell, p.131, illustrated;
Kenneth McConkey, Sir John Lavery RA 1856-1941, 1984 (exhibition catalogue, Ulster Museum and Fine Art Society), p.70, note p.68;
Kenneth McConkey, Sir John Lavery, 1993, Canongate Press, p.103;
Sinéad McCoole, Hazel, A Life of Lady Lavery, 1996, Lilliput Press, Dublin, p.217, illustrated p.20;
Kenneth McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, 2010, Atelier Books, p.119, 120 illustrated

Catalogue Note

 ‘… one of the most poetically conceived things that modern art has produced’
(A. Stodart Walker, The Art of John Lavery ARA, RSA, The Studio, Vol. LXII, 1914, p.4)

Visiting Wengen at the end of November 1912, after a heavy snowfall, John Lavery was struck by new beauties of design. A regular winter visitor to Tangier, he often declared that the tremulous shoreline of North Africa helped to wash the grey London light from his eyes. His income was derived essentially from portrait painting and this confined him for most of the year to his studio in Cromwell Place. Opportunities for escape were nevertheless to be seized, and for the darkest months of every year, between January and April, ‘the white city’ was his destination of choice. In 1912 however, this routine was disrupted. In May, an old client, the publisher, Hugh Spottiswoode, approached Lavery with a commission to paint the Royal Family in a large presentation portrait for the National Portrait Gallery.1 The King’s diary was more complicated than Lavery’s and sittings could not be arranged until the early months of the following year – thus greatly reducing the annual Tangier sojourn. To compensate in the autumn of 1912 the Laverys escaped briefly to Venice in September and Switzerland two months later (McConkey, 2010, pp.116-119).

Wengen, in the Bernese Oberland, was probably selected because of its fine views of the Jungfrau, the ‘Monk’ (Monch), and other peaks in the Lauterbrunnen valley that Lavery would paint, for example Winter in Switzerland (The Monk), 1912 (Ulster Museum, Belfast).Previously known as a summer resort for walkers and climbers it had, since the turn of the new century, acquired a reputation for winter sports. The recently extended Jungfrau Railway that now took tourists to the summit was undoubtedly an additional attraction which Lavery made use of.3 However, Wengen was colonized by members of the aristocracy and upper middle classes – the very people who served as Lavery’s clientele – and  the resort was now the home of those who indulged in ‘skating, skiing, tobogganing and curling’.4 One observer of the Christmas season at the pretty village in 1912 noted that in these pursuits ‘the middle-aged were as reckless as the young … and grave professional men, the embodiment of dignity at home, flounder sans ceremony’. Competition was not restricted to athletic males, and ‘women who clamour for equality between the sexes, find it in Switzerland’ ('Winter Sport in the Alps', Aberdeen Journal, 27 December 1912, p.4).

For the painter whose early reputation rested on pictures of tennis and croquet players, sport of any kind provided the kind of theatre he required, and this winter holiday brought, skiers, skaters, curlers and tobogganers into his canvases, and on at least one occasion he took to the ice himself (fig. 1).5

However his most consistent models in Wengen were his wife, Hazel, and step-daughter, Alice. These long-suffering subjects posed on at least three occasions – two of which show the child dragging or being dragged on her sledge (see fig.2 and Japanese Winter, 1912, Auckland Art Gallery).

The third, and most memorable instance occurred, as Lavery recalled, ‘on our last day in Switzerland’, and he continued,

I had to finish my “Japanese Switzerland” – Hazel and Alice in the snow – and they were very patient; but as time went on and Alice saw how little time would be left for a run on her luge, I overheard her say to her mother, “Isn’t it a pity, Muffie, that we married an artist.”6

This often-quoted remark and the resulting picture was in essence, the summation of their stay in Switzerland, and it along with one other snow scene was truly ‘Japanese’ in character (fig. 3). The picture is of course reminiscent of Ukioye prints, of the type that were circulating in Glasgow during Lavery’s youth. Following the Iwakura Mission to Britain in 1872, trade with industrial centres rapidly increased, and Lavery at one point decorated his Glasgow studio with Japanese fans. The economic significance of the Japan to his adopted city was later enshrined in his mural of depicting a Japanese battleship under construction for the City Chambers (McConkey, 2010, pp.79-80).

While Hazel’s attenuated form certainly recalls those of Utagawa Kunisada in the present work, the possibility that Lavery set out deliberately to recreate the Japonisme of his youth is nevertheless, unlikely. It is more possible that having stood back from the finished work, the similarity was obvious. Wengen had taught him to reconsider the decorative and expressive power of the silhouette. Another artist might become preoccupied with detail, might struggle for visual accuracy in the faces of his subjects, but this painter was happy with a flowing brush to note the stylistic contours of his wife and step-daughter. Alice may be impatient, but she was to become a favourite model, posing frequently at Tangier, and occasionally in later life.7 Her mother was of course to become the most familiar ‘Irish’ face in the twentieth century, being featured as Kathleen ni Houlihan on the Irish currency up to 1975.8

When shown at the Royal Academy in 1913 Japanese Switzerland was to some extent eclipsed by the Buckingham Palace commission. Reviewers who might otherwise have deliberated on it felt the need to go into detail on the Royal Family. There were however, notable exceptions for whom the painting was ‘quite charming in its strangeness’ (The Royal Academy - Concluding Notice'. Manchester Courier, 16 May 1913, p.6). It was however in the wider context of Lavery’s retrospective exhibition the following year that the painting shone as a work ‘so unprejudiced in vision’ that it ‘might almost have been conceived by a Japanese’ (James Bone, 'Mr Lavery's Impressionism', The Manchester Guardian, 22 June 1914, p.7). Another reviewer referred to the Bernese Oberland studies as ‘a feast of masterpieces’, while for a third, the present picture was ‘instinct with charm’ (‘The Art of John Lavery’, Liverpool Daily Post, 9 June 1914, p. 9; ‘The Lavery Exhibition’, Western Daily Press, 9 June 1914, p. 7). Stodart Walker, writing in The Studio went even further, describing Japanese Switzerland as ‘… one of the most poetically conceived things that modern art has produced’.

Not long after the Grosvenor Galleries retrospective, Japanese Switzerland was acquired by Lavery’s Scottish patron, Patrick Ford. Friendship between the two men followed the commission in 1909, by which Lavery produced Ford’s wife’s portrait (private collection).9 Throughout the pre-war years and in its aftermath, Ford hosted his London friends, along with many celebrities of the day, at his coastal retreat at Westerdunes, overlooking the famous golf course at North Berwick. It was here and at his Edinburgh house, with Lavery, the young Scottish Colourist, FCB Cadell, and Patrick William Adam, that Ford helped plan the launch of the new artists’ group, the Society of Eight in 1912.10 By the outbreak of war in 1914, not only had he acquired two other Wengen works, Skiing and Skating (both private collections) but had also purchased garden and boar-hunting pictures painted on Lavery’s winter sojourns in Morocco. There can be no doubt however, that Japanese Switzerland along with Lavery’s brilliant sketch of Anna Pavlova, were Ford’s most important acquisitions.11 Stodart Walker was clearly correct in hailing it, at the time of its purchase, ‘… one of the most poetically conceived things that modern art has produced’. Suave and sophisticated, it was truly an instant made eternal.

Professor Kenneth McConkey

[1] For further detail see, Kenneth McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, 2010 (Atelier Books), pp. 119-123. Spottiswoode had previously commissioned a double portrait, Mrs Spottiswoode and Betty, (Private Collection), shown at the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in 1901. 

[2] John Ball, Ball’s Alpine Guide, Part 1, The Central Alps, 1863 (Longmans, 1907 ed), p. 91. The Jungfrau, formerly owned by the Sir Alfred and Lady Mond was sold Christie’s London, 19 May 2000.  An upright version of The Summit of the Jungfrau passed through the Fine Art Society in 1970s; another mountain-scape, The ‘Monk’ is contained in the Ulster Museum.

[3] Karl Baedeker, Switzerland … A Handbook for Travellers, 1907, (Leipzig, Karl Baedeker), pp. 200-201. Plans for the construction of the Jungfrau Railway were first developed by a Zurich financier, Herr Guyer-Zeller in December 1894. Work commenced four years later and because of the extensive tunnelling involved, it was still incomplete by 1906. The new opening date of 1910 was missed and the railway had just been inaugurated by the time of Lavery’s visit, at a cost of 12 million francs and 27 lives. The viewing station interior, possibly that of the Eismeer observatory – known as Skiing Party – was sold Phillips, London, 4 June 1996.

[4] Lady Gwendoline Churchill who was sitting for Lavery at this time, may well have recommended Wengen, since Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill and other members of his family had stayed at the resort in the previous January.

[5] See for instance Curling, 1912 South African National Gallery, Capetown; Skiing, 1912, Private Collection; and two versions of Skating 1912, both Private Collections; see also Winter Sports, Switzerland, 1912, Irish Museum of Modern Art, McClelland Collection. The Laverys visit coincided with that of the Monds (see note 2) and on one occasion Lavery painted the fearless Mary Mond as The Skater, Christie’s 19 May 2000. 

[6] Quoted from unpublished ms diary page in the artist’s hand. Also quoted with minor variation in John Lavery, The Life of a Painter, 1940 (Cassell), p. 131; McConkey 2010, p. 119.

[7] As a young mother with two small children living in Ireland, she features in Kilkenny Interior, 1935 (Private Collection), and of course it was with her that the aged artist took refuge at the start of the Blitz.  

[8] Hazel Martyn (1880-1935), first married Edward Livingston Trudeau in December 1903. Following his death and the birth of Alice, the following year, she conducted a clandestine relationship with Lavery and they were finally married in July 1909. For Hazel Lavery and the Irish currency, see McConkey 2010, pp. 175-6.

[9] Patrick Johnstone Ford (1880-1945) was a successful Edinburgh solicitor who commissioned Lavery to paint a full-length portrait of his wife, Jesse, in September 1909. Thereafter Lavery produced portraits of other members of his family. After the Great War, Ford stood for Parliament in the Edinburgh North constituency, briefly becoming a junior Treasury minister in 1923. He remained in Westminster until 1935. The following year he penned the introduction to the catalogue of the Lavery Retrospective Exhibition at Dundee, lending nine works. For further reference see Kenneth McConkey ‘Very few men can play like you: The Golf Paintings of Sir John Lavery’, in Michael Clarke ed., The Art of Golf, 2014 (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), pp. 45-6, 56.  

[10] Ford was already an Adam patron and had already paid for Cadell, an old school friend, to visit Venice in 1910 on condition that he had first refusal on his pictures - to the value of £150, on his return; see Patrick J Ford, Interior Paintings by Patrick William Adam RSA, 1920, (Maclehose, Jackson & Co, Glasgow); McConkey 2010, p. 147; Tom Hewlett, Cadell, A Scottish Colourist, 1988 (Portland Gallery in association with Bourne Fine Art), pp. 27-8.

[11] Although the full extent of his Lavery holdings remains unclear, Ford also owned the splendid sketch of Anna Pavlova which appeared as a two page colour insert in The Illustrated London News, 22 April 1911; see McConkey 2010, p. 109. He proudly displayed it in the Dundee exhibition in 1936 – a further retrospective so popular with the public that it was extended beyond the published closing date. And it was Ford who lent it to the Royal Scottish Academy as a memorial exhibit following the artist’s death.  

Irish Art

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