Having spent two disastrous months in Brighton in 1934, in a vain attempt to restore Hazel Lavery’s health, during which he came down with influenza, the artist must have felt that there was unfinished business in the resort, and the Palace Pier with its popular attractions, provided just the sort of subject which had delighted him since his early days in Glasgow. It was of course, a popular subject with other artists, having been painted by Charles Conder and Spencer Gore, and for Lavery’s old friend, Jacques-Emile Blanche, it was a favourite motif. Blanche’s street view of the Aquarium at the front of the Royal Albion dates from around 1920, and other views of the promenade followed. Coincidentally, in 1936, William Nicholson also painted the West Pier from one of the second floor balconies of the adjacent Bedford Hotel. Where Nicholson’s work is carefully delineated, Lavery’s is a swift impression.
If his Brighton business was unfinished back in 1934, the present picture and two companion sketches (unlocated), go some way towards answering the call.3 No one was better suited to summarizing a complex subject than Lavery and even in his eighty-first year, there was no diminution of his power. Here on the sea front, the impression is swiftly achieved and detail dotted in with evident delight.
Professor Kenneth McConkey
1 Three views of Brighton West Pier are listed in Lavery’s studio at the time of his death. One is known to have been given to the manager of the Clydesdale Bank. Another is listed as having ‘gone to Ireland’, while the third is that shown in the Memorial Exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1941, and went to Alice, the painter’s step-daughter.
2 The Aquarium was closed for two years and reopened in 1929.
3 The ex-Alice Gwynn version is likely to be that which passed to a private collection in Dublin and was subsequently stolen in the late 1980s. Less complete than the present work, it does not contain the horse-drawn carriage and deck-chairs in the foreground. Its present whereabouts is unknown.
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