During the years that followed, and especially after he established his hill-top winter studio in Tangier in 1903, Lavery painted its beaches to the east and west of the medina on many occasions. The western approaches were a series of tiny inlets at the foot of Mount Washington, where his house was located, while to the east was that long sweep of sand we see in the present work. At its extremity Lavery’s old friend, Walter Harris, the Times correspondent, built his famous Moorish villa and the artist would visit him on many occasions, riding along the shore at low tide. A number of small oil sketches depict scenes in and around the Villa Harris and it is possible that the present aerial view represents one of the vistas from its flat rooftop. From here one could analyse the bands of colour that took the eye in a series of Whistlerian transitions to the horizon.
If the present canvas re-lives that first encounter, its topography reiterates that of The White City 1893 (Fig. 1), painted on Lavery’s third winter visit. Comparison between the two reveals that in the intervening twenty-six years not only had the harbour been constructed, but a ribbon development fanning out from the medina was now advancing towards Harris’s house.
This was the city that Lavery found after a six year absence. Up to the beginning of 1914 it had been his annual winter retreat between January and the end of March each year. U-boats in the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay put paid to these forays and when peace was declared, in an extension of his duties as an Official War Artist, he was dispatched to Northern France on an assignment to paint field hospitals, supply depots and war graves for the Imperial War Museum, early in 1919. This was followed by a visit to Sidi-bou-Said on the bay of Tunis and a summer spent on portrait commissions. Inscribed ‘1919’ on the reverse, Tangier can only have been painted right at the end of the year. Although Lavery’s long awaited return to his house has been dated with certainty to January 1920, it is possible that he set off for his winter studio around Christmas, making this one of the first canvases he painted on arrival.
Although the long Moroccan sojourn that followed, incorporated a trip to Marrakesh with Winston Churchill, the majority of the time was spent in Tangier, and at least six paintings representing aspects of the bay have been identified – all dated 1920. In these Lavery’s palette subtly alters to reflect the time of day and viewpoint. In the present instance a sunny morning – indicated by the direction of shadows of the riders on the sands – is recorded with remarkable acuity. The ever-changing clouds that swept through the Straits on a mild sirocco demanded speed and spontaneity. It was canvases like this that provoked the comment from Churchill that,
He shows us sunlight in all its variety – buoyant and bracing … on a Scottish golf links – gay and pellucid and pleasurable on the Riviera – or languid and slumberous on the coasts of Tangier. (Introduction to exhibition catalogue for Alpine Club Gallery, Pictures of Morocco, The Riviera and other scenes by Sir John Lavery RA, 1921, p. 3)
When he returned to London in the spring of 1920, it was with a final farewell. The studio on Mount Washington was sold three years later and when in 1933, in his late seventies, he took his ailing wife, Hazel, on a Mediterranean cruise, they passed Tangier in the twilight but did not disembark. It nevertheless brought back pleasurable memories of people and places that must inevitably have included that incomparable North African strand.
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