Audio: Sir John Lavery's Played!!
Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
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VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 2… Read more Property of Robert H. and Clarice Smith
Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)


Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
signed and dated 'J Lavery 1885' (lower left), inscribed 'PLAYED!!' (lower right), signed again and inscribed '"PLAYED!!"/J Lavery/.. Bath Street/Glasgow/..' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
14 x 11¾ in. (35.5 x 30 cm.)
Carl von Tallis, thence by descent.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 19 May 2000, lot 50.
with Richard Green, London.
K. McConkey, Sir John Lavery: a painter and his world, Edinburgh, 2010, p. 33, fig. 32, illustrated.
R. Billcliffe et al., exhibition catalogue, Pioneering Painters: The Glasgow Boys, Glasgow, Glasgow Museums, 2010, p. 79.
K. McConkey, exhibition catalogue, 'Tennis Parties', Court on Canvas, Tennis in Art, Birmingham, Barber Institute, University of Birmingham, 2011, p. 58, illustrated.
Special notice
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.
Sale room notice
Professor Ann Sumner, Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham, would like to request the loan of Played!! to the forthcoming exhibition, Court on Canvas: Tennis in Art, to take place from 27 May - 18 September 2011. Please contact a member of the department for further details.

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Lot Essay

A young woman lunges to return the serve. In that instant, her eye is on her opponent who has moved close to the net, as well as on the ball. Given the impediments of hat, tight bodice and long skirt, it is potentially a disastrous enterprise, but she carries it off with style in Played!!, John Lavery's extraordinary early sketch of a game that had in recent years become 'more than a mania'.1

It is difficult to imagine today the speed with which the craze for lawn tennis swept through the middle classes of Great Britain in the late nineteenth century. Major Clopton Wingfield, when he produced his boxed sets of racquets, nets and tennis balls in 1874 could not have predicted the popularity the game would achieve. Clubs sprang up in provincial cities and the game swiftly ousted croquet from the All England Club at Wimbledon. Advice was given in The Graphic on the most effective stokes and George Du Maurier, in his cartoons for Punch, lampooned the aesthetic youths who forsook their volumes of verse in favour of the game. It was adopted by everyone from the Prince of Wales down to those who had sufficient wealth to purchase one of the spacious villas in the new suburbs (fig. 1). Clubs sprang up and since young men and women could play together in a controlled environment, it was seen as an ideal way to bring marriageable couples together.

Lavery returned to this phenomenon from rural France in December 1884. It was all the rage in the Paisley and south Glasgow suburbs. One of his friends, Alexander MacBride, the painter-son of a wealthy solicitor had established a tennis court in the grounds of his family home, 'Cartbank', in Netherlee Road.2 Here the painter came to observe the game in the summer of 1885. Unlike his contemporaries in the Glasgow School, Lavery had intuitively recognized that the future lay not in the peasant subject matter of Guthrie and Walton, so much as in an open embrace of la vie moderne, and there was no better place to achieve this than in the garden at Cartbank. He immediately set to work on a sequence of pictures associated with the game, the first of which was the Tissot-esque Beg Sir! (unlocated), a picture of a young woman player, racquet on her lap, teasing her Scots terrier. This was followed by The Tennis Match, a picture of a man in a straw boater, nonchalantly chatting to a female competitor in the presence of her chaperone.3 However, these were of less significance than the game itself - the subject of Lavery's most ambitious canvas, The Tennis Party (fig. 2). MacBride recalled that this represented 'no special occasion, but was just a composition in which at odd times my sister, a cousin and I posed for the principal figures'.4 In what was to be the definitive rendering of the game, the painter hoped to show not only the action, but also the entire mise-en-scène - the court with its spectators. The picture of an avant-garde social activity treated in an equally avant-garde naturalistic fashion, attracted derision at the Royal Academy, but was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Salon.

It was however, not the final word on the subject. In an even more daring treatment of the game Lavery produced Played!!, a dramatic study of a young woman, Elizabeth MacBride, lunging forward, despite her cumbersome clothing, to return her brother's serve. In these early days, women's tennis was often little more than a form of 'under-arm' 'pat-ball' due to the restrictions imposed by long skirts, bustles and 'tight-lacing'. Women were not expected to be so athletic as Lavery's heroine.5

Celebrating her rally however, posed real problems for the painter. In the days before instantaneous photography using celluloid film, it was impossible for one so experienced with a camera as Lavery to capture such drama. Even Muybridge's time-series photographs of women tennis players, published in Pennsylvania in 1887 look remarkably static when compared to the extraordinary young woman in Played!!. Understanding her movement to the point where one could produce a painted snapshot, demanded great discipline. It is worth recalling that during his student years he was advised on one occasion to 'Always carry a sketchbook. Select a person - watch him - then put down as much as you can remember. Never look twice. At first you will remember very little, but continue and you will soon get complete action'.6 This fragment of conversation belies the immense investment in visual memory training that characterized academic instruction in the Paris ateliers. The eye should be ready to function at the speed of a camera shutter.

Something of this sense of immediacy is conveyed in the present picture. We find it not only in the principal figure, but also in the background spectators. The woman with a parasol, the man lounging against the rail are both rubbed in. Lavery makes this foray from the shade of an overhanging tree that casts its shadow over part of the foreground but neither this, nor the trees in the background can be treated in detail lest the overall effect - the speed of the game - would be lost. It is a masterly performance. Reflecting on the scene, we can only conclude that the watercolour version - A Rally (fig. 3) - was painted after Played!!. Here the figures are treated with greater definition, the foreground shadows are muted and those bright splashes of sky that break through the trees are gone. Although very fine, it lacks some of the splendid spontaneity of the oil version.

Lavery retained an interest in tennis throughout his long career, painting a number of studies of Paisley Lawn Tennis Club (Renfrew Museums and Galleries) in 1889 and returning to the subject on visits to Trent Park in 1919, Palm Beach in 1926 and Cannes in 1929. However, none of these later canvases carry the conviction and originality of Played!!. They came at a time when action shots of tennis stars appeared in the papers, and in newsreel - conferring celebrity status. None of this was available of course, when the artist walked up to the edge of court at Cartbank on a sunny day in the summer of 1885 and painted what is surely one of the most vivid and compelling early images of the game.


1 Alan Bott, Our Fathers, 1931 (William Heinemann), p. 189. See also Heiner Gillmeister, Tennis, A Cultural History, 1997, (Leicester University Press, pbk ed., 1998), p. 174 ff; also Ann Summer ed., Court on Canvas, Tennis in Art, 2011 (exhibition catalogue, Barber Institute, University of Birmingham).
2 For a fuller account of Lavery's tennis sequence see McConkey 2010, pp. 32-36.
3 Illustrated in McConkey 2010, fig.33.
4 Letter dated 18 December 1943, Aberdeen Art Gallery Archives; quoted in McConkey, 2010, p. 33.

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