One thing, noted immediately on first arrival and many times thereafter, was that the beach leading up to the ‘White City’ was its major thoroughfare.1 Lavery’s friend, Walter Harris, who built his villa, close to the bay noted that from his garden there was a steady stream of passers-by, especially on market days. Traders clad in burnous, laden with their wares, horsemen, and the occasional goatherd with his flock would make use of this open stretch of sand en route to the Grand Socco. Looking down from Lavery’s viewpoint in the Kasbah, much of the area he saw has been completely transformed, as the bay is now fringed with modern apartments, and the distant hillsides are dotted with white villas.
Back in 1912 it was very different. The country had been becoming more lawless in recent years with plots and counter-plots within the Sultan’s entourage. Although notionally a protectorate, Tangier was not immune.2 However, the Laverys actually arrived for their winter sojourn that year in December 1911 and stayed until April 1912. Immediately on arrival, the artist decamped to Cape Spartel to paint the wreck of the SS Delhi, a P&O ‘Indiaman’ that ran aground off the shore and broke up in a storm (see lot 56). In the new year they were joined by Lavery’s daughter, Eileen, and her fiancé, James Dickinson, who were to be married in March and this coincided with the French seizure of Fez, when the Sultan was deposed and mutinous factions brought to heel.3
These latter events seem to have made little impression on the painter. The fine early spring sunshine saw him out regularly to work on the motif. Here the familiar cliché of ‘washing the studio light from his eyes’ was all too true. Looking down from the Kasbah – possibly from the minaret of the Green Mosque – this splendid view of the bay lay before him. This remarkable series of pictures – other examples are contained in the Ulster Museum, Belfast and the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh - uniquely records the changing moods of sea and sky in conditions that were sometimes unforgiving – but not here. As his pupil, Winston Churchill, would later remark:
His practical ability makes it child’s play to transport easel and extensive canvas to the chosen scene, to stabilize them against sudden gusts of wind, to protect them from the caprice of rain; and he is so quick that no coy transience of effect can save it from his clutches…4
Professor Kenneth McConkey
1 K. McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and His World, 2010, pp.54-56, 60-63.
2 Walter Harris, Morocco That Was, 1921, (Eland ed., 2002); Edith Wharton, In Morocco, 1920 (Travellers’ Library ed., 1927). Harris was, like many British expatriates, suspicious of the French, while Wharton, arriving after the Great War when German POWs had been put to work on road construction, extolled the French and dedicated her volume to Lyautey.
3 K. McConkey, op. cit., p.116.
4 Winston Churchill, ‘Foreword’, Pictures of Morocco, the Riviera and other Scenes by Sir John Lavery, RA, 1921 (exhibition catalogue, Alpine Club, London), pp.3-4.
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