Dundee, Victoria Art Galleries, Paintings by Sir John Lavery, Kt, RA, RSA, 1936, no 19;
London, Christie's, The New English Art Club Centenary Exhibition, 1986, no 46 as On the Terrace, Tangier
In the early months of 1920, the Laverys took an extended tour of North Africa and the Riviera. Apart from visiting Fez, Rabat and Marrakesh, and before moving on to Cap Ferrat, the centrepiece of the journey was a month's stay at Tangier from mid-January to at least the middle of February.
For the painter, Tangier was a familiar haunt. He first visited the city in 1891 and, captivated by it, making further expeditions in 1892 and 1893 and painting monumental canvases such as A Moorish Dance, 1892 and The White City, 1893 (both Private Collections). However, it was only in the early years of the new century that Lavery rekindled this initial excitement, purchasing Dar-el-Midfah, the 'House of the Cannon' in the hills close to the city. There he joined a motley group of expatriates that at various times included RB Cunninghame Graham, 'Creeps', (nickname for the watercolourist, Joseph Crawhall), the adventurer, 'Bibi' Carleton and reprobate members of the European aristocracy, including the notorious gambler, the Duke of Frias.
These were dangerous times. Kidnap was a frequent occurance and two prominent British members of the community, Walter Harris and Kaid MacLean had suffered at the hands of the local brigand, El Raisuli. Although Tangier was an international protectorate and the centre of diplomatic intrigue, Morocco was notoriously volatile and it only achieved stability after the French invasion of 1912. Ironically it was a net beneficiary of the Great War, when the French authorities employed German prisoners to build roads and bridges. When Lavery first arrived, passengers were unloaded into rowing boats from ships moored in Tangier Bay, but now, in 1920, the new harbour, built under the Medina, was fully operational and motor vehicles were an increasingly common sight. It was therefore a changing city to which Lavery returned after the war. His sojourn in the city coincided with three events. Firstly, he and Hazel attended the wedding of his former model, Mary Auras, who was now living in Morocco. Secondly, the German Legation was closed on 15 January and the building facing into the souk was handed over to the Moroccan government – with an impressive military parade. And finally, on 6 Febraury, there was the sad ceremonial of the funeral of Kaid Maclean – soldier, expatriate Scotsman, Sultan's envoy, local hero and friend of the painter – when the whole city was in mourning. Lavery painted these latter events with great gusto. Despite the social round, the artist sought quieter moments, painting at least one rooftop scene, several 'moonlight' sketches and views of the beach and souk, reprising earlier compositions.
There are however very few pictures that sum up the relaxed ambience of his domestic setting more than My Studio Door, Tangier, where the painter's wife, Hazel, basks on a reclining chair, and a girl, probably her daughter, Alice, leans against the wall in the foreground. Other unidentified members of the entourage are seen on the left. The work recalls earlier lush Tangier garden scenes. In the days before the war Lavery had painted the resplendent My Garden in Morocco, 1911 (Private Collection) and Under the Palm Tree, 1912 (Private Collection, see McConkey 1993, plate 119). These show the painter's wife with a younger Alice under the bougainvilleas on the terrace at Dar-el-Midfah. At this time, mirroring the large Artist's Studio, 1913 (National Gallery of Ireland) he also painted In Morocco, 1912 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne), showing Hazel, Alice, the painter's daughter Eileen and an Arab servant, Ben Ali Rabbati (see also Sotheby's 9 May 2007, lot 47). Thoughts of these sunlit Tangier idylls were clearly in his mind when Lavery turned to the present work. Its unusual symmetrical composition, with Moorish arch and dark central rectangular doorway imitating the proportions of the canvas, almost forms a picture-within-the-picture. Window apertures, fronds and parapet walls frame the entrance while the figures are randomly distributed. Hazel reclining with parasol, recalls a motif borrowed from My Garden in Morocco and The Thames at Maidenhead, c.1914 (Private Collection). Once more a dramatic sunshade disc supports the pictorial drama of balancing shapes and rectangles. Where the artist-reporter had often depicted passing events, here there is stasis, the dark well of the studio beckons and his models await.
Lavery never returned to Tangier. After a Mediterranean holiday with the ailing Hazel in 1933, he wrote wistfully to Cunninghame Graham, 'We have just returned from a Mediterranean pleasure cruise passing Tangier in the twilight. I felt quite sad recalling the past. Bebe [sic], Creeps, Frias and the rest. I suppose we ought to be grateful and believe in what you once described as that misleading statement, "God is love"...' (postcard dated 8 September 1933, National Library of Scotland).
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