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Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A., R.S.A.
THE PALACE AND THE PRISON, TANGIER
JUMP TO LOT
62
Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A., R.S.A.
THE PALACE AND THE PRISON, TANGIER
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns

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London

Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A., R.S.A.
1856-1941
THE PALACE AND THE PRISON, TANGIER
signed and titled l.l.: THE PALACE AND THE PRISION/ TANGIER/ J Lavery
oil on canvasboard
26 by 35.5cm., 10¼ by 14in.
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Provenance

Phillips, London, 17 November 1992, lot 25;
Bonhams, London, 12 July 1995, lot 81;
Christie's, London, 9 May 1996, lot 126;
Sotheby's, London, 16 May 2002, lot 128

Exhibited

London, Goupil Gallery, John Lavery RSA, RHA, 1908, no.9;
Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, A Century of Irish Painting: Selections from the Brian P. Burns Collection, 3 March - 29 April 2007, illustrated p.74

Literature

Selwyn Brinton, ‘An English Artist in Morocco’, The Connoisseur, vol.XIX, no.73, September 1907, p.38

Catalogue Note

In January 1891, with the recommendations of Joseph Crawhall and Arthur Melville ringing in his ears, Lavery arrived in Tangier for the first time.1 The ‘white city’, built on a promontory commanding the Straits of Gibraltar, and glistening in the sunshine, was unlike anything he had ever experienced, and he immediately set to work producing pictures for an exhibition, managed by David Croal Thomson (see lot xx), at the Goupil Gallery. So successful was this, and so captivating was the Moroccan interlude, that the 1891 sojourn was destined to be repeated regularly in the years to come, and especially when the artist purchased the house and studio on Mount Washington – the celebrated Dar-el-Midfah. In the run up to the Great War, no year was complete without a winter sojourn on its heights.2 From here it was a short hilltop walk to the Kasbah, where, en route to the marketplace one might pass the palace and the prison.

This curious structure with its three-arched and vaulted portico was vividly described by the French Orientalist painter, Benjamin Constant following a diplomatic mission in 1873. In the vestibule he encountered the jailer smoking ‘kiff’, an opiated tobacco substitute. Women were weeping by the grated door and when he looked through the iron grille it was to ‘distinguish a vast foul-smelling and sombre room, without air, in which are human forms crowding and crouching, with the noise of chains …’ These criminals depended totally on food brought to them by family or visitors.3 By the turn of the century this ‘black hell’ had become a tourist spectacle, and Constant’s colourful description was embellished by others. By the time of Alfred J Weston’s visit, for example, the jailor had become ‘a dozen lazy Moorish soldiers, armed to the teeth’, 

For a proper consideration one of the soldiers will withdraw the heavy bolts and allow the visitor to look into a large oblong apartment entirely … empty, save for a score of criminals who flock to the opening … the soldier unconcernedly looks on – treating the occurrence precisely as a showman would treat the inspection of his monkey cage.4

Others concurred. Selwyn Brinton, recalling the present work in an essay on Lavery’s recent Moroccan pictures for The Connoisseur declared that ‘those eyes behind bars – staring, imploring, wolfish, desperate – have never faded from my memory’.5 Not surprisingly this curious structure attracted other artists after Constant, notably the Scots painter, Robert Brough. However, with the dramatic zig-zag shadow of the Palace of Justice thrown across the foreground of the present study, few declared its form with such definition as Lavery.

Professor Kenneth McConkey

Kenneth McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, 2010 (Atelier Books), pp.54-6.

2Only once in 1913, was Lavery compelled to alter his plans to accommodate sittings with the Royal Family, for the large group portrait now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Benjamin Constant, ‘Tangier and Morocco. Leaves from a Painter’s Note-Book’, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, vol 78, April 1889, p.756.

Alfred Jerome Weston, ‘From Spanish Light to Moorish Shadow’, Scribner’s Magazine, vol.13, no.2, February 1893, pp.193-207.

Selwyn Brinton MA, ‘An English Artist in Morocco’, The Connoisseur, vol XIX, no.73, September 1907, p.38.              

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns

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London