Lavery painted a series of canvases depicting the famous golf links at North Berwick between 1919 and 1921. They were painted while he was staying with his friend, a solicitor named Patrick Ford at his country house, Westerdunes. These canvases include The Putting Course of 1921 (private collection) and The Golf Links, North Berwick (Sotheby’s, London, 22 November 2016, lot 15). Westerdunes had been built in 1908 on the outskirts of the East Lothian town, a large villa overlooking the sea and with extensive gardens. To coincide with the completion of the house, the Fords had commissioned Lavery to paint the portrait of Mrs Ford. This was their first meeting and led to a friendship and lucrative patronage for Lavery; the Fords purchased pictures by Lavery with subjects as diverse as boar hunting in Morocco to skiing in Switzerland. With its beautiful Japanese garden (see Sotheby’s, London, 27 September 2017, lot 313), tennis courts and sweeping views of the sea, the Ford’s home offered an escape for the war-weary artist from the spring of 1919, when his commission as an Official War Artist came to an end and he was freed from exhausting tours of naval dockyards, munitions factories and military hospitals. It was again a time of weekend house-parties and the painter and his glamourous wife Hazel were first on the list of many friends and admirers. North Berwick became an oasis conveniently accessible via the sleeper train from London and the Laverys were frequent guests. The artist’s daughter Alice remembered that, '…we went every autumn to stay there with Sir Patrick Ford, who was MP for Edinburgh at that time… my father [Lavery] meant to play golf, and relax, but he never did, and he sent for his paints the week after he arrived...' Lavery spent his days in North Berwick painting on the links or at the nearby open-air swimming pool or sandy bay, whilst evenings were spent with the jovial hosts and their guests in front of the roaring fire.
According to the muttered assessment of a Scots caddie, Lavery was ‘not much of a golfer’ but he was inspired by the view of the great swathe of green grass, slate-grey sea and clouds which seemed to be silver-lined by the radiance of the sun. Lavery’s daughter Alice recalled; 'I used to play with my father, he was only a moderate player, impatient and always in a hurry, he said his golf was more like 'dismounted polo' and so it was, I was more seriously competitive, and did not enjoy when he beat me usually, mostly because he was always in such a hurry! Considering his age, against mine, the boots should have been on the other foot, don't you think, I have laughed about it since, but he was such a nice person, and I loved him dearly…' (quoted in Kenneth McConkey, The Art of Golf, 2014, p.59, note 29)
Although Lavery himself was unenthusiastic about playing golf, he loved the spectacle and watching his friends enjoying themselves. He also consistently held the belief that an artist should be inspired by what he saw before him and should be capable of recording those fleeting effects of light and weather. Thus the golfing pictures are as much concerned with the capture of light and colour on a landscape and sky as they are about the sport itself.
The Golf Course, North Berwick is from the most important group of Lavery’s pictures painted at Westerdunes which include views from the grounds of the Marine Hotel, the putting course and the Ladies Links. He painted this favourite prospect on nine occasions. Three of these were painted down on the green and amongst the players, depicting different times of day and weather conditions. Six of these, including the present picture, were sketched from one of the balconies of the house and are devoted exclusively to the setting, with the distant beach and the island of Fidra breaking the horizon. These less-figurative canvases are perhaps more atmospheric and capture the majesty of the enormous skies and windswept coastal landscape. It is interesting that Patrick Ford owned a collection of views of the island of Iona by F.C.B. Cadell which reflect a similar interest in meteorological effects on the Scottish coast.
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