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


Sir John Lavery, R.S.A., R.H.A., R.A. (1856-1941)
signed 'J. Lavery' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 x 30 in.(63.5 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1920.
Mr Mark Watson.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 13 November 1986, lot 31.
Purchased by the present owners at the 1987 exhibition.
K. McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, Edinburgh, 2010, pp. 150-2, 154, fig. 180.
London, Royal Academy, 1921, no. 91.
possibly Glasgow, Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1941, no. 448.
London, Richard Green Gallery, Modern British Paintings, May 1987, no. 5.

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Lot Essay

In Febraury 1921, Sir John and Lady Lavery embarked on a Mediterranean cruise exploring the Riviera, staying at Cap d'Ail and visiting Villa Sylvia, the mock-Palladian house built by Ralph Curtis on Cap Ferrat.1 Here the painter renewed his friendship with his former pupil and Kensington neighbour, Winston Churchill. The two could not resist the splendid views from the promontory and as Lavery indicates, they often found interesting, if precipitous places on which to plant their easels (The Blue Bay, Mr Churchill on the Riviera, 1921, National Trust, Chartwell). Cap Ferrat was a wonderful vantage point from which to study the tremulous coastline in both directions - west, towards Nice and east, to Beaulieu-sur-Mer and on to Monte Carlo.

Although he must have known that the area was popular with painters - it had attracted Monet and Renoir in the 1880s - Lavery responded to its richness in an original way. This was a lotus land of sunlight, calm azure sea views, and semi-tropical gardens, described by Sir Frederick Treves, the celebrated surgeon to King Edward VII, who retired to the South of France in 1920.

In his The Riviera of the Corniche Road, Treves portrayed Beaulieu as a, 'super-village of sumptuous villas pampered by an indulgent climate it breathes luxury and wealth, languid ease and a surfeit of comfort. It is probably the richest village in the world, and the glory of its gardens are nowhere to be surpassed'. 2

While there had been recent influxes of wealthy indolent Americans and White Russians fleeing the Bolsheviks elsewhere on the Riviera, Cap Ferrat, dominated by the large private estate of King Leopold II of Belgium, remained a discrete enclave. The oldest inhabitants of neighbouring Beaulieu were English expatriates who, like Treves, were in search of the sun.3 Protected from the Mistral by the surrounding rocky ramparts, it was, according to Andre Theuriet, 'the country of mandarins and roses from which in April there spreads a subtle fragrance of flowers and fruit suggesting an Arcadian paradise'.4 Edward VII making use of the Sir Thomas Lipton's new motor yacht in the nineties, moored there and Lord Salisbury, the Tory leader in the 1880s, had a villa on the hillside overlooking the little town, as did the furniture magnate, Sir John Blundell Maple.5 Although seldom mentioned in memoirs, Beaulieu had the added advantage that Monte Carlo, with its famous salles privées, was a mere six miles away and during this tour, Lavery paid his first visit to the Grimaldi domain, painting the 'tête de chien' at dusk. Other canvases from this extended sojourn depict Cap d'Ail, the hill village of Eze, the spacious gardens at Villa Sylvia and views looking towards Nice - the largest of which, known as The Honeymoon (1921, sold Christie's London, 12 May 2006, lot 100) shows Ossian Donner, the Finnish diplomat and Lady Lavery sitting on the roof terrace.6

However, for the painter the splendid vista of Beaulieu, seen from Cap Ferrat, had a special appeal and he painted two pictures of the view, possibly on the same day - one showing the inlets for fishing and pleasure craft with the early morning mist lifting over the mountains (Beaulieu, 1921, private collection) and the present picture, where the viewpoint shifts to show the little town nestling on the shoreline at the foot of the steep hill rising to the village of Eze.

Here, in the present picture, the 'suntrap' that writers at the turn of the century talked about is fully realized. The haze has lifted, a tiny white boat has put out into the bay, and sun glints on the buildings along the shore, with the modern tower of the église St Michel rising above them.7 A thin languid sheet of cloud passes over the mountains and in the crystalline atmosphere the colours of the sky and distant hills are mirrored in the calm, shimmering sapphire sea.

The Laverys returned to London in May 1921 to reports of secret diplomacy leading to a temporary cessation of hostilities in Ireland. The painter had planned an exhibition of his recent work - Pictures of Morocco, the Riviera and other scenes - for the following October and despite the fact that he and Churchill would in their separate capacities, be involved with the negotiations involving Irish rebel leaders, there was no one better than his distinguished neighbour to pen the introduction to the show's catalogue. Churchill concurred; he was charmed by the light, 'gay and pellucid and pleasurable', in the Riviera paintings, and he vividly recalled the intrepid character of Lavery's enterprise. Having witnessed his mentor at first hand he could confirm that,

'Sir John Lavery is a plein-airiste if ever there was one, painting entirely out of doors, with his eye on the object, and never touching a landscape in his studio. No painter has coped so successfully with the difficulties of this method. 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 an effect can save it from his clutches - no need for him that his subject should stay the same for two days running. In consequence there is a freshness and a natural glow about these pictures which give them an unusual charm. We are presented with the true integrity of an effect. And this flash is expressed in brilliant and beautiful colour with the ease of long mastery'.8

No one could trap the essence of a beautiful spring day overlooking the ocean better than Lavery.


1 Ralph Wormeley Curtis (1854-1922), Bostonian married into the Colt firearms dynasty and built the villa on Cap Ferrat for his daughter, Sylvia.

2 Sir Frederick Treves, The Riviera of the Corniche Road, 1921 (Cassell and Co), p. 112.

3 For the expansion of tourist trade in Nice and the Riviera generally, see Robert Kanigel, High Season, How one French Town has seduced Travellers for Two Thousand Years, 2002 (Viking).

4 Quoted from, Guide to The Riviera, From Hyères to Viareggio, n.d., [c 1930] (Ward Lock), p. 123.

5 Capt Leslie Richardson, Things Seen on the Riviera, 1927, (Seeley Service and Co), p. 96.

6 Kenneth McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, 2010, (Atelier Books), pp. 151.

7 Although the body of the church dated back many centuries, a tower was constructed in 1909.

8 Rt Hon Winston S Churchill PC, MP, 'Foreword' in Pictures of Morocco, The Riviera and other scenes by Sir John Lavery RA, 1921 (exhibition catalogue, Alpine Club Gallery, London), pp. 3-4.

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