Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A.
- Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A.
- The Golf Links, North Berwick
- signed l.l.: J. Lavery; inscribed and dated on the reverse: THE GOLF LINKS/ NORTH BERWICK/ By/ JOHN LAVERY/ 1921/ LEFT TO RIGHT/ HAZEL, MR ASQUITH, MY ALICE, JESSIE & PAT FORD
- oil on canvas
Christie’s, London, 12 June 1986, lot 137, titled as Lady Astor playing golf at North Berwick;
Christie's, London, 20 May 1999, lot 55;
Christie's, London, 31 October 2002, lot 157;
Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, The Art of Golf, July - October 2014, no.30
Kenneth McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, 2010, p.147, note 5;
Kenneth McConkey, ‘Sir John Lavery’s The Dentist (Conrad Ackner and his Patient)’, British Dental Journal, vol 120, no 2, 2011, illustrated p.84
One of the oldest and most distinguished courses, in the Edwardian years, the reputation of the North Berwick club was enhanced by the fact that the Prime Minister, Arthur James Balfour, had been club captain and even while in office, he would leave his nearby estate at Whittinghame to play a round with visiting dignitaries from the world of politics, the church and the arts. The sport was played on the dunes at North Berwick long before the formation of the present club in 1832. From its ten founder members it grew rapidly throughout the nineteenth century, and a ladies’ club was established in 1888. So it was at Westerdunes, as much in Westminster, that Ford hoped to pursue his political ambitions (having fought unsuccessfully as a Liberal in 1909 and 1910, Ford was elected MP for Edinburgh North in 1920). To coincide with its completion, he commissioned portraits of his wife and mother from Lavery and thereafter, as his interest in art developed, the wealthy solicitor amassed a collection of the artist’s work, including the celebrated Japanese Switzerland (Sold in these rooms, 21 October 2015, lot 12), along with pictures by Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell, Patrick William Adam, Mary Cameron and other Scottish painters.
Yet it was only after Lavery stayed at the Fords’ town house in Moray Place, Edinburgh, while painting the fleet at anchor under the Forth Bridge (Royal Collection) that he took up regular invitations to Westerdunes (Letters from 8 Moray Place in Edinburgh indicate that this took place in September 1917). For the painter, his wife, Hazel, and step-daughter, Alice, this oasis, was conveniently accessible from London on an overnight sleeper train. The visits were regarded as recreational, and taking to the course Lavery delighted in the muttered assessment of a Scots caddie that he was ‘not much of a golfer’. When this was repeated to an Irish counterpart some years later, a wry response came back - ‘“Ah, sir, there are very few men can play like you”’. (Lavery, 1941, p.182) Alice, the central figure in the present work, later confirmed both caddies’ observations:
'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 McConkey, 2014, p.59, note 29)
Although its visitors’ book seems not to have survived, the Westerdunes canvases are variously inscribed between 1919 and 1921; from a dated sketch of the Ford children we know that he revisited the house at least once in the mid-twenties. On these Scottish holidays, Lavery would venture into the town for a swift sketch of the North Berwick open-air swimming pool, or be driven further afield to Tynninghame, Lennoxlove and Gullane to paint landscapes, garden views and interiors. However, the most important group of East Lothian paintings depict the golf course and they include views from the grounds of the Marine Hotel, that take in the putting course and the Ladies Links, with Craigleith island in the distance. Within this significant body of work, his favourite prospect, painted on no less than nine occasions, is that of the present canvas. Six of these, sketched from one of the balconies of the house, are devoted exclusively to the setting, with the distant beach and the island of Fidra breaking the horizon. The remaining three, of which the present work is central, take the viewer down on to the green and amongst the players, depicting different times of day and weather conditions.
Thus, under scudding clouds, Lavery marshalled a foursome that included the former Prime Minister, HH Asquith, Patrick and Jesse Ford, and Alice, the energetic young woman teeing off. All, along with Hazel Lavery as spectator, are found in the three ‘players’ pictures. Two of these - The Golf Course, North Berwick, (Private collection), a twilight painting, and The Golf Links, North Berwick, the present canvas – are standard 25 x 30 inch canvases, while the third - now known as Playing Golf at North Berwick – is a large studio production which draws heavily upon it.
Referring specifically to the occasions she posed, 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, and ask [sic] me to pose for a figure in the foreground… but, it must worry serious golfer(s), because I was driving in the direction of other players, not seemingly safely far enough away, who could be in some danger, perhaps, [the] artist has 'Artistic license' just like poets, and such details as missdirected [sic] shots would not have worried him, What he was looking to portray was the best swing for a drive that I could produce.'
Although it focused on the athletic sixteen-year-old, elegantly dressed in a long ‘jumper’ – the golfing attire made fashionable by Nancy Astor - the artist’s ‘licence’ may have brought amusement to his hosts and other weekend golfers who like the Asquiths, were Ford friends, if not active supporters. Alice epitomizes the liberated young women who would emerge in the twenties, for whom golf was considered ‘the best game’ because of its ‘beneficial effects on mind and body’. It was even claimed as a social leveller, an occasion when ‘class distinctions are dropped.’ (May Hezlet, ‘Golf from a Woman’s Point of View’, The Lady’s Realm, vol 16, 1904, pp.483-488) Mixed ‘foursomes’ of the kind Lavery represents, were common. Indeed the North Berwick club had been keen to promote the women’s game by being one of the first to construct a separate timber clubhouse for Ladies in the grounds of the Marine Hotel. This was opened by Sir Walter Hamilton-Dalrymple in 1888. The ladies’ club was subsequently merged with the main club in 1963 and their original nine holes have become the childrens’ course.
Despite his keen instincts as a collector, Ford did not acquire the present canvas. Instead it went to Conrad Ackner, Lavery’s dentist. A man of science, Ackner (1880-1976, born Conrad Adolph Achner), was a farmer’s son from Ropcha, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He took degrees in Bern and Vienna before arriving in London around 1910, when he started to pioneer the application of x-radiography in dentistry. His surgery in Welbeck Street was hung with a collection of works by Lavery. The artist’s portrait, The Dentist (Conrad Ackner and his Patient) 1929 (British Dental Museum), shows Ackner in action, with Hazel Lavery in the chair. Since he also owned one of Lavery’s Lennoxlove interiors, it is possible that he too was a guest of the Fords, but the present canvas was his most important acquisition. On a visit to the dentist, what better distraction could there be? As they paraded past it, Ackner’s patients, who included the crowned heads of Europe, and film stars such as Chaplin and Dietrich, must have been momentarily released from imminent angst by that majestic sweep of East Lothian shoreline, on which an athletic young woman takes her swing.
We are grateful to Kenneth McConkey for preparing this catalogue note.