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Sir John Lavery, R.H.A., R.A., R.S.A. (1856-1941)
Sir John Lavery, R.H.A., R.A., R.S.A. (1856-1941)

Ariadne

Details
Sir John Lavery, R.H.A., R.A., R.S.A. (1856-1941)
Ariadne
signed 'J Lavery' (lower right)
oil on canvas
50 x 40 in. (127 x 101.5 cm.)
Painted in 1886
Provenance
Robert Strathearn, his sale; Christie's, 2 June 1926, lot 101 (375 gns. to Doig, Wilson and Wheatley, Edinburgh).
Literature
The Bailie, 28 December 1887.
The Academy, 22 February 1890, p.140.
The Athenaeum, 13 June 1891, pp.772-3.
The Magazine of Art, 1891, p.xxxix (The Chronicle of Art).
The Magazine of Art, 1892, p.xviii (The Chronicle of Art).
James L. Caw, The Art Journal, 1894, p.78.
E.R. Pennell, Art in Glasgow, Harpers New Monthly Magazine, February 1895.
James Stanley Little, A Cosmopolitan Painter, John Lavery, The Studio, XXVII, 1902, p.115.
W. Shaw-Sparrow, John Lavery and his Work, London, c.1911, pp.53, 68, 72, 172-3.
Anon., Mr Lavery and Modern Art, The Connoisseur, XXXIX, 1914, p.273.
A. Stodart Walker, The Art of Mr. Lavery, Country Life, 13 June 1914, p.890.
A. Crookshank and The Knight of Glin, The Painters of Ireland 1660-1920, London, 1978, pl.61 (for comparison).
K. McConkey, Sir John Lavery, R.A. 1856-1941, Ulster Museum and Fine Art Society Exhibition Catalogue, 1984, pp.33-4.
R. Billcliffe, The Glasgow Boys, Glasgow, 1985, p.189.
K. McConkey, Sir John Lavery, Edinburgh, 1993, p.48, pl.47 (for comparison).
Exhibited
Glasgow, Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, 1890, no.577.
London, Goupil Gallery, Pictures by John Lavery, 1891, no.5.
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, 1892, no.23.
Paris, Old Salon, 1892.
London, Guildhall Art Gallery, Works by Irish Painters, 1904, no.7. Venice, Biennale, Monstra Individuale di John Lavery, 1910, no.18. London, Grosvenor Galleries, A Retrospective Exhibition of the Works of John Lavery 1880-1914, 1914, no.85.

Lot Essay

'Ariadne was one of Lavery's most universally praised pictures, being eulogised by critics, from its first appearance. For E.R. Pennell, writing in 1895, it was simply a 'lovely decoration'. James L. Caw recalled it in 1908 as a 'delightfully modern treatment of [a] classic story, in which realism and decoration were happily harmonized'.

The work exists in two large versions which are similar in most points of detail (see McConkey, 1993, pl.47). It appears that the second, more heavily worked version, c.60 x 40 in. (private collection) retained in the artist's studio, was not exhibited until 1936 when it was shown in Lavery's retrospective exhibition at the Victoria Art Galleries, Dundee (no.7). It is likely that this version was that which was subjected to the later reworking to which James Stanley Little referred in 1902. He noted, 'I chanced to return to his studio some few weeks since, and I had the opportunity of seeing it in its latest state. A more chaste, and indeed classic, study of the nude ... one need not hope to find'. In the small oil on panel study (Ulster Museum and Fine Art Society, 1984, no.23), Ariadne's long tresses are held up by a hair-pin. Although the sequence is variously dated 1885-7, we may assume that it was not begun until 1887.

The story of Ariadne's love for Theseus is well-known. The daughter of Minos and Pasipha, the king and queen of Crete, who held dominion over the Athenian state, she betrayed her father by helping Theseus, the Athenian prince, to kill the minotaur in the Labyrinth on the island of Crete, and thus release the Athenians from their annual tribute. After this she sailed off with Theseus only to be abandoned by him on the island of Naxos, where in some versions of the story she died. In other accounts, such as that favoured by Titian, she was rescued by Bacchus, only to be jilted again.

A favourite theme of Victorian painters, Ariadne was treated on five occasions by G.F. Watts, from 1869 onwards, borrowing both stylistic attributes and his narrative from Titian (Guildhall Art Gallery and Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). Frederic Leighton had tackled the subject in the previous year (Salar Jang Museum, Hyderabad) and like Lavery he favoured the version in which Bacchus does not appear. J.W. Waterhouse, again using this version of the story in 1898, saw her lulled to sleep with two recumbant leopards, as Theseus's ship casts lose from the harbour.

Lavery, by contrast, removes much of this circumstantial detail from the story. He shows the naked Ariadne, alarmed and distraught, scanning the deep blue Aegean for the ship of her lover. Leaving iconography aside, the picture is Lavery's statement of the shared ideals of the Whistler followers in 1887. He first met Whistler in 1886, the year in which the American painter assumed the Presidency of the Royal Society of British Artists. In the spring of that year Whistler exhibited Harmony in Blue and Gold, a subsequently destroyed semi-classical full-length figure study. Lavery was impressed by Whistler's aestheticism and by his desire to modernize classical subject matter and the tendency which became evident in Ariadne was shared by Lavery's contemporaries in the Whistler circle. Such works as Alexander Harrison's In Arcadia, 1886 (Muse d'Orsay, Paris) and Theodore Roussel's Reading Girl, 1887 (Tate Gallery, London) form part of the image community from which Ariadne springs.

Its closest companion however, is William Stott of Oldham's Venus Rising from the Sea Foam, 1887 (Oldham Art Gallery). When it was discovered that Stott's model for Venus had been Whistler's mistress, Maud Franklin, a public altercation occurred between the two men. The long red tresses of Stott's Venus, which made the identification of the model possible, are a prominent feature of both large versions of Ariadne. Association with the Stott/Whistler dispute may be the reason why Ariadne did not receive her London airing until 1891.

At this time, Lavery's lineage was perceived to proceed from Whistler rather than from Bastien-Lepage. In such company there was tolerance for what might be regarded by more conservative commentators as a lack of finish - provided the effect, the colour harmony, was beautiful. Many later critics confirmed this to be the case with Ariadne, referring to its 'rich colouration', its 'cultured but artificial romance' and its synthesis of realist and decorative values'.
(Kenneth McConkey, private correspondence, 1999).

We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for his assistance in cataloguing this and the following lots by Sir John Lavery.
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