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

A Summer Evening - The Thames

Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
A Summer Evening - The Thames
signed 'J Lavery' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 x 30 in. (63.5 x 76 cm.)
Painted circa 1913.
The artist's family, and by descent.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 12 November 1986, lot 55.
with Richard Green, London, where purchased by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, Their Majesties' Court, Buckingham Palace, 1931, Portrait Studies and Other Sketches by Sir John Lavery, R.A., London, P. & D. Colnaghi, 1932, no. 62, illustrated, as ‘The Thames’.
K. McConkey, Exhibition catalogue, Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1856-1941, Edinburgh, Fine Art Society, 1984, p. 95, no. 95, illustrated.
K. McConkey, Sir John Lavery, Edinburgh, 1993, p. 127.
K. McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, Edinburgh, 2010, p. 123, and note 64.
Brighton, 1932.
London, P. & D. Colnaghi, Their Majesties' Court, Buckingham Palace, 1931, Portrait Studies and Other Sketches by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1932, no. 62, as ‘The Thames’.
probably London, Leicester Galleries, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by the Late Sir John Lavery, RA, April 1941, no. 40, as 'The Thames at Henley'.
Edinburgh, Fine Art Society, Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1856-1941, August - September 1984, no. 95, as 'The Thames': this exhibition travelled to London, Fine Art Society, September - October 1984; Belfast, Ulster Museum, November - January 1985; and Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, February - March 1985.
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Louise Simpson
Louise Simpson

Lot Essay

Having finally completed The King, The Queen, The Prince of Wales and The Princess Royal, Buckingham Palace (National Portrait Gallery, London) for the Royal Academy exhibition of 1913, John Lavery sought relaxation on visits to celebrated watering holes along the Thames and as Lord Derby’s guest at Newmarket. These seasonal recreations were busman’s holidays because the painter always went equipped with his sketching kit - an elaborate collapsible easel designed to take standard 25x30 inch canvases which, when freshly painted, were slotted into a slide box. Made to the artist’s own specifications, a second example would, after their first painting exercises two years later, be commissioned for Lavery’s pupil, Winston Churchill (National Trust, Chartwell Studio).

Back in the studio, when it was reopened, the slide box contained sketches of varying quality, some of which might be adopted as source material for larger pictures. This was the case with one outstanding view of the river showing the artist’s wife, Hazel Lavery, lounging in a punt – the present work. Although post-dated 1921, this is likely to have been executed some eight years earlier in that memorable pre-war summer. Standing by the Thames on a warm evening, Lavery was inevitably reminded of one of his earliest and most celebrated canvases, The Bridge at Grez 1883 which in 1913 had long been installed in the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. As a picture of two women boating, one holding a parasol, it was reprised in a more impressionistic second version when Lavery returned to the pretty village of Grez-sur-Loing in 1900 (Ulster Museum, Belfast). Throughout his long career, the painter never completely abandoned key themes from the years of his youth, and at this point, with the present canvas before him, he conceived the idea of a new version of the classic subject, resulting in the large depiction of The Thames at Maidenhead.

The progress of this canvas was essentially halted by a further series of commissions, a sojourn in Tangier at the beginning of the following year, and ultimately by the outbreak of the Great War. Lavery nevertheless retained his ambitions for a grand ‘river’ picture throughout the war, painting Sutton Courtenay (Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin) in 1917, just before taking up his appointment as an Official War Artist. It was however, only in 1921 that The Thames at Maidenhead was finally shown, with the present version waiting a further eleven years until his Colnaghi exhibition in November 1932.

There are obvious differences between the two. While Hazel floats lazily by in both canvases, a female companion and prominently placed pet Pekinese, accompany her in the larger, studio version. These, along with a passing oarsman, have been added, and the boat-shed and other background buildings, removed. Crucially however, Hazel’s gondoliere adopts a static pose in the present version – he must actually have been charged to maintain the skiff in its present position, just long enough for the work to be completed. This nonchalant stance allows his pole to be rhymed with the flagpole on the far bank. Lavery’s instinct for a strong compositional statement in the bold diagonal sweep of the barque was unfailing, and it leads on this occasion to a work distinguished by its remarkable freshness and fluidity. While others found that during the Season, the noise and turbulence of motor launches was unbearable, and increasing congestion meant that “no reach [was] safe from loud ’Arries”, the painter celebrates the slow, peaceful deliberation of punting when the pace never exceeds one or two miles per hour. So often a metaphor for temps perdu, at these moments the gently flowing stream delivers a pool of colour – pink, peach and mauve – in the form of his forever languid American wife and model.

We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for preparing this catalogue entry.

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