Lloyd George advised folk to shout and cheer; motor-buses and charabancs carried flags; and we can imagine much tooting of horns. Some buses were even commandeered by revellers and went on their own victory tours of the city (fig 1).
At Hyde Park Corner, the triumphal Arch, containing a small station for traffic police at busy times, rose above the claxons, to support Peace Descending on the Quadriga of War, the massive bronze by Captain Adrian Jones which had been installed in 1912 to replace a huge equestrian statue of Duke of Wellington, removed thirty years earlier.2 Given its subject matter, Peace Descending … had clearly found its moment – and so the painter seized upon its symbolism on this historic day.3
Lavery was always alive to such moments, and conspired on many occasions to be in the right place at the right time. It first happened in 1888 when he sketched the visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition. Later, in 1916, he had worked close to Hyde Park Corner, painting the war wounded from St. George’s, convalescing on a sunny day at the foot Richard Westmacott’s huge statue of Achilles (fig 2), and eight months after Armistice Day, he would stand on the roof of the Carlton House Terrace recording the victory parade passing through Admiralty Arch (Admiralty Arch, 19 July 1919, private collection).
Clearly the present cityscape presents a more spontaneous and un-orchestrated outburst of levity. The view from the hospital was splendid and being relatively close to his studio in Cromwell Place, would provide subject matter on future occasions. He would for instance, return to the thoroughfare in 1922 to record the state procession arranged to celebrate the return of Prince of Wales from his eight-month tour of the East, and again three years later to paint the view towards Piccadilly on a sunny autumn day.4 However, at that moment, there was much to catch the eye.
As an Official War Artist with a high profile, who had been knighted at the beginning of that year, it was not difficult for him to arrange his temporary studio on that momentous occasion. Armed with a selection of official passes and stamped letters of introduction he had recently toured Britain visiting naval bases and munitions factories making rapid records of what he found. During this final year of the war, the intrepid painter had even flown in air ships and been suspended under a kite balloon. But here, the view from the hospital window enabled a joyous spectacle to transcend the late autumn chill. The festivities in London continued for a further two days. The Strand was closed as people danced in the street, and crowds brought traffic to a standstill at the Admiralty and in front of the Bank of England, while Australian troops lit a massive bonfire in Trafalgar Square. For Lavery however, there was work to do and he was whisked away. Within a couple of days he was at Granton Navy Yards staying overnight with Admiral Jellicoe before joining HMS Queen Elizabeth, where the German Grand Fleet was to be surrendered to Admiral Beatty.
However, the present canvas stands outside Lavery’s Official War Artist duties, and is of more personal significance in that it brought the painter and one of his oldest friends, David Croal Thomson (see lot 78) back into contact. When it went on display in Thomson’s gallery, Barbizon House, in 1919, the Scots dealer described it as ‘specially interesting because of the extraordinary movement on that auspicious day’, and, in a moment of reflection, he felt compelled to remark that ‘the refined quality [of Lavery’s work] still carries me away as it did twenty years ago, when I persuaded him to let me arrange his first exhibition in London’.5 That we can fix the time and place so accurately, only adds to the significance of the present work – it is one of the very few paintings, other than newspaper illustrations, produced at the time it was happening and its imposing architecture is appropriately complemented by those splendid foreground notes of cars and crowds as ‘Peace’ descends on Londoners. Its value as an historical document is immense.
Professor Kenneth McConkey
1Obviously at this point Charles Sargeant Jagger’s masterpiece Royal Artillery Memorial, 1925, was yet to come.
2 The Duke’s statue was taken to the military barracks at Aldershot, where it remains to this day. Reputedly the Jones Quadriga group was cast from Russian cannons taken during the Crimean War.
3 As was widely reported (see Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 12 November 1918, p. 4, and others), on Armistice Day, SJ Waring asked Edwin Lutyens to design a shrine at Hyde Park Corner to symbolise the victory of Right over Might. £50,000 was offered for its construction.
4 These works are A State Procession — The King, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and Prince George, Hyde Park Corner, 21st June 1922 and The Winter Sun, Hyde Park Corner, 1925, (both Private Collections); and a final sketch was made on the occasion of the marriage of Prince George, Duke of Kent to Princess Marina of Greece on 29 November 1934. A smaller sketch of horse traffic at Hyde Park Corner, c 1900, is also known.
5 DC Thomson, Barbizon House Record, 1919, 1919 (privately printed), p. 13, and note on no 27. Lavery’s first London solo exhibition was staged in 1891 at the Goupil Gallery, where Thomson was manager.
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