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.
signed l.r.: J Lavery; also signed, titled and dated 1911 on the reverse
oil on canvas
77 by 64cm., 30¼ by 25in.
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Cooley Gallery, Old Lyme, Connecticut, 1995


Washington, John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 13 - 28 May 2000, illustrated p.51


Adele Dalsimer and Vera Kreilkamp, 'Introduction', Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P Burns, 2000, (exh. cat., John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, p.51

Catalogue Note

The Laverys spent the early months of 1911 in Tangier and returned in December for an extended winter sojourn that would take them into the spring of the following year. On the first of these trips, the painter heard that having been fêted with a solo exhibition at the recent Venice Biennale, a monograph on his life and work by Walter Shaw Sparrow was commissioned. Secondly, after numerous calls in the press, his international reputation was finally being recognized by his election at long last to the Royal Academy.

The following winter visit of 1911-12 was auspicious for very different reasons in that the Laverys would be joined in the new year by Eileen, the painter’s twenty-one-year-old daughter, who was due to marry her fiancé, the young solicitor, James Dickinson, in March. For the occasion, all the important members of the expatriate community gathered in the garden of Dar-el-Midfah, the painter’s house. That month also saw the invasion of Morocco by French forces under Marshall Lyautey – an incursion designed, so all were led to believe, to bring stability to an increasingly volatile state.

However, not long after the Laverys arrival, on the night of 11th December, the SS Delhi ran aground off Cap Spartel and a rescue mission involving French and British warships was mounted. After attempts were made to refloat the vessel, it began to break up and it took several days for all passengers and crew to be ferried to safety. Lavery rushed to the scene to record the broken vessel. Although the exact circumstances of the creation of Sunset, The Caravan remain obscure, it is probable that the picture represents a section of the more thickly wooded bays around the Cap with a group of survivors being led to safety in the ‘White City’. It is equally possible that the canvas represents the escort of the Princess Royal and her husband, the Duke of Fife, who had been subjected to a second rescue when their longboat capsized during the disembarkation. Unlike other passengers who were ferried to Gibraltar on Naval vessels, they were taken to the British Legation at Tangier for recovery.

Other paintings of the disaster reveal choppy seas around the entrance to the Straits where rocks and sandbanks lie hidden. At this time of day however, the colours deepen, the palette darkens and the eye struggles with detail. It was only just possible to discern a column of horses, led by an out-rider, making their way along a sandy shelf at the water’s edge. At this distance from Tangier, all travellers were in peril, even though the notorious villain, El Raisuli, and his gang had been tamed. As they make their way to safety, the heavens are streaked with fiery clouds, and the sun sinks to the Atlantic horizon. The day’s end is surely as dramatic as the rescue.  

Professor Kenneth McConkey

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