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

Mary in Black

Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A., R.S.A. (1856-1941)
Mary in Black
signed 'J Lavery' (lower right), signed again and inscribed 'MARY IN BLACK/J Lavery/5 CROMWELL PLACE/LONDON/S.W' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
14 x 10¼ in. (35.5 x 26 cm.)
Private collection, Canada.
Berlin, Schulte's Gallery, 1904, catalogue not traced.
Toronto, The Art Museum of Toronto, The Loan Exhibition of Works of British and Foreign Painters, November - December 1909, no. 39.
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Lot Essay

In 1901, on Unter den Linden, the painter, Auguste Neven du Mont introduced Lavery to a charming sixteen-year-old named Mary Auras. There was an immediate rapport and for the following six years Miss Auras acted as a model and was adopted as an elder sister to Eileen, the painter's teenage daughter.1 The toast of the Paris studios, she epitomized le style anglais - the ultimate in French chic. Conferring with young painters, Arnold Bennett observed this phenomenon and was surprised to discover, when he met his friend 'K', that Mary was German, had been 'the rage of Berlin', and had 'received five [marriage] proposals in three months'.2

When they travelled together, Lavery, then in his late forties, was obliged to employ the services of a chaperone. In 1903 for instance, when the entourage arrived at Beg Meil in Brittany, Miss Auras posed on the beach under a massive parasol for Summer (Musée Rodin, Paris). In later years she joined the expatriate artist community in North Africa where she appears with Eileen and 'The President' (Lavery) as a member of the Tangier Hunt in the sketchbooks of Joseph Crawhall - along with her future husband, an eccentric British army officer, Nigel d'Albini Black Hawkins.3

Throughout these years Miss Auras was the subject of some of Lavery's most important full-length portraits - Mary with Roses, 1902 (Johannesburg Art Gallery), Mary in a Green Coat, 1903 (Bradford Art Gallery), Mary in Green, 1904 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), and the remarkable Printemps, 1904, purchased at the Salon for the Musée du Luxembourg (Musée d'Orsay, Paris). In addition to these imposing canvases she sat for more intimate half-lengths and head studies, several of which show her dressed in black.4 One of these was given to Auguste Rodin; another appeared in Christie's in 2007.5
Most of Lavery's more formal portraits of Miss Auras show her wearing a selection of broad brimmed hats. The painter was a keen student of contemporary fashions in millinery. Extravagant Edwardian headgear enabled him to play with veils and shadows, contrasting rich blacks and soft whites in a subtle play around the delicate tones of a face. It was an effect especially admired by French critics one of whom, Camille Mauclair, found in Mary's portraits, echoes of 'the grace of Greuze' combined with the flair of Gainsborough and Reynolds.6 This could apply as much to the present Mary in Black (the present work) as it does to the Lady in White, circa 1902 (Manchester City Art Galleries). It is likely, however, that in the present instance Lavery experimented with a pose he was to adopt for the splendid Idonea la Primaudaye, (private collection) in which the sitter throws her right arm across the back of gilded cane chair - a familiar studio prop.7
Prior to the arrival of Hazel Lavery in 1909, Mary Auras was undoubtedly Lavery's most celebrated model. The discovery of this fresh Mary in Black sheds new light on Lavery's mature phase. While it eschews the excesses of 'wriggle and chiffon' portraiture in Sargent and Boldini, it calls upon a rich heritage in summoning the ghosts of eighteenth century masters.
We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for preparing the catalogue entries for lots 31 and 94.

1 John Lavery, The Life of a Painter, 1940 (Cassell and Co.), p. 76; Kenneth McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, 2010, (Edinburgh, Atelier Books).
2 Newman Flower (ed.), The Journals of Arnold Bennett, 1932, (Cassell and Co.), pp. 167, 170 (entries for 19 April and 6 May 1904). 'K' was either Gerald Kelly or Milner Kite.
3 Vivien Hamilton, Joseph Crawhall, 1861-1913, One of the Glasgow Boys, 1990 (John Murray), pp. 71-3.
4 She also posed as The Mother, circa 1902 (Ulster Museum, Belfast). For a fuller discussion of works featuring Mary Auras see McConkey 2010, pp. 85-88.
5 Sold Christie's 10 May 2007, lot 114.
6 McConkey, 2010, p. 86.
7 McConkey, 2010, pp. 80, 83, (fig 93). This chair also appears in Mrs Spottiswoode and Betty, 1901 (private collection).

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