Details & Cataloguing

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


Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A., R.S.A.
titled, signed and dated l.l.: BRIGHTON. / FROM THE ROYAL ALBION. / J Lavery 1936.
oil on canvasboard
51 by 61cm., 20 by 24in.
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Christie's, London, 8 November 1985, lot 220;
Christie’s, London, 22 May 1998, lot 57


London, Leicester Galleries, Memorial Exhibition, April 1941, no.25[?];
Washington, John F. Kennedy Center, Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 13 - 28 May 2000, illustrated p.50


Adele Dalsimer and Vera Kreilkamp, ‘Introduction’, Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P Burns, 2000, exh. cat., John F. Kennedy Center, p.50

Catalogue Note

Following a year of tragedy in which he lost his beloved wife and only daughter, Lavery set sail for the United States on 2 January 1936 with the idea that he would go to Hollywood and paint movie stars in action. The ‘dream factory’ was less amenable than he thought and after a few weeks he repaired to Palm Springs before returning to London. In the summer he appears to have gone at some point to Brighton to stay at the Royal Albion Hotel where the present picture was painted from his window overlooking the Brighton West Pier.1 Opened originally in 1826, the hotel fell into disrepair and was closed by the end of the century. Rejuvenated by the financier, Harry Preston, it reopened in 1913 and immediately began to attract a fashionable clientele that included writers, actors, musicians and artists. The Victorian Aquarium, with its gothic clock tower, had also been recently renovated.2 Lavery shows us the scene before the construction of the modern roundabout.

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.

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