Lot 30
  • 30

John Lavery

300,000 - 500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • John Lavery
  • Mrs. Osler
  • signed J Lavery (lower left); inscribed on the reverse Mrs. Osler/ painted by John Lavery/ at Cannes/ 1929 
  • oil on canvas
  • 29 by 23 5/8 in.
  • 73.6 by 60 cm
oil on canvas


Mr. and Mrs. Henry Smith Osler
Thence by descent


London, Royal Academy, 1929, (possibly) no. 501 


Kenneth McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, Edinburgh, 2010, p. 179


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work is in lovely condition. The canvas is unlined. The paint layer is clean. There is no abrasion or damage. A few tiny cracks have received retouching in the darker colors around the figure, in her dress and in the fireplace. A few other tiny cracks are still visible, but these are not disturbing. The work should be hung as is.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Despite the burgeoning of modernist décor after 1925, classic rococo room decoration – boiseries, and Louis quinze, the signifiers of high style for decorators such as Edith Wharton and Elsie de Wolfe – remained very much in vogue. The wealthy bourgeoisie of the New World longed to be seen in such a setting and Lavery’s great idea at the turn of the century was to bring owners and interiors together – ‘millionaires surrounded by their millions’, as the dyspeptic Joseph Pennell later described them.

Spiritually it was but a short step from the Hamptons to the glamour of the côte d’azure. That sylvan stretch from La Croisette to Cap d’Ail had long been the haunt of the British aristocracy, and in the late nineteenth century its popularity was effectively sanctified by Queen Victoria’s surprising penchant for the Excelsior Regina in Nice. By the 1920s, this ‘Old World’ was increasingly conquered by new money, and luxurious villas and hotels were under construction around what were once quiet old fishing ports. For Sir John Lavery, on the recommendation of his painting pupil, Winston Churchill, the azure coast replaced bohemian Tangier as a regular winter respite, and the potted palms of the British Legation seen in The Greyhound, (1909, Ulster Museum, fig. 1) were replaced by the grand luxe of the present picture.

Lavery’s first paintings of the area were shown in London in 1921, the same year that The Double Cube Room at Wilton was submitted to the Royal Academy and revealed a sub-genre in his work that would become increasingly prominent – to the extent that four years later he staged a highly successful exhibition of ‘portrait interiors’ at the Leicester Galleries in London. Recognizing its winning appeal, Joseph Duveen proposed that the painter transfer the show to his galleries on Fifth Avenue, from where it would tour to Boston, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, ending at Whitehall, Palm Beach (McConkey p. 169-174). The Laverys arrived for the opening on the SS Mauretania at the end of November and remained in New York over Christmas. By the time of their return to London, the painter had more commissions for interiors than he could cope with, and a second trip was organized for 1926, when they would winter in Florida. The rage for these American interiors must have reached the ears of the Osler family around this time, however, their commission was only realized in 1929, after their move from Canada to Europe.

The family already had strong connections in London through Sir William Osler, the prominent physician, who in 1905 was appointed Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford. Mrs Osler, née Janet Winifred Christie, reclining in opulent splendour, was the wife of the Canadian attorney, Henry Smith Osler, Sir William’s nephew. A modest and retiring individual, Henry developed a passion for the study of bird migration and on several hunting trips to Africa, brought back specimens for the Royal Ontario Museum.

During the winter months of that year the Laverys rented at ''l’Enchantement" in Mougins from Henrietta Guinness, but for parties and other social occasions they frequently repaired to the Hotel Beau Site in Cannes where they and the Oslers are likely to have met.

The intimate interior and casual pose of the sitter epitomizes that sense of liberation that came with the Jazz Age, and was painted at the Osler’s villa in Cap d’Antibes. Before the Great War it would have been inconceivable to show a woman – other than a courtesan – lounging on a sofa with the abandon displayed by Lavery’s sitter. Yet this was precisely the fragrant "pompadour" luxury implied by the setting, and now its Elsie de Wolfe-style "blue blue" splendour could be revealed. Following completion of the portrait, Lavery was entrusted with that of Janet Osler’s daughter-in-law, Mrs Philip Featherston Osler (unlocated) which was shown at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1930.