Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
The German Delegates' arrival on board H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth 15th November 1918
signed, inscribed and dated 'PAINTED ON/THE QUARTER DECK H.M.S. QUEEN ELIZABETH/15TH NOVEMBER 1918.- EVENING./J. Lavery-' (lower left) and signed, inscribed and dated again 'ORIGINAL STUDY/THE GERMAN DELEGATES./ARRIVAL ON BOARD/H.M.S. QUEEN ELIZABETH./15TH NOV: 1918/JOHN LAVERY.' (on the reverse)

oil on canvas
25 x 30 in. (63.5 x 76.2 cm.)
Admiral of the Fleet, the Rt. Hon Lord Chatfield, and by descent.
Acquired by the present owner circa 1996.
'Sea Power Exhibition’, Manchester Evening News, 26 November 1918, p. 4.
‘London Day-by-Day’, Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 27 November 1918, p. 4.
‘A Sea-Born People’, The Globe, 4 December 1918, p. 12.
‘Relics of the War at Sea’, The Times, 4 December 1918.
‘Sea Power Exhibition’, Belfast Newsletter, 5 December 1918, p. 4.
J. Lavery, The Life of a Painter, Cassell, 1940, pp. 146-8.
K. McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, Edinburgh, 2010, pp. 140-2.
London, Grosvenor Galleries, Sea Power Exhibition, 1918.
Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery, Sea Power Exhibition, 1919.
London, Royal Academy, 1919, no. 107.
Bristol, Royal West of England Academy, Sea Power Exhibition, 1919.
Special notice

These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.

Brought to you by

Pippa Jacomb
Pippa Jacomb

Lot Essay

When the guns on the Western Front fell silent on 11 November 1918, the formal surrender of enemy forces was hastily arranged. Four days later, on the evening of 15 November German naval officers arrived on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth, anchored in the Firth of Forth, to surrender their fleet, and Sir John Lavery was on hand to record the event.

The previous evening he had been staying with Admiral Jellicoe, before being taken out to the ship where the delegates were due to arrive at 11.00 am the following morning. However, ‘fog, mutiny and coal shortage’ meant that the German fleet did not arrive at its moorings until 4.00 pm (Lavery, op. cit., p. 146). As a result of the poor weather conditions there was not much to see as Lavery set up his portable easel – but what there was, was highly significant. He had stood on this quarter deck before on his first tour as an Official War Artist in September 1917. Now, over a year later, he was peering into the fog on the same spot waiting for a dejected group of enemy officers whose surface fleet would shortly be escorted to Scapa Flow where, six months later, it would be scuttled.

The immediate task was to record the act of surrender in two large canvases for the nascent Imperial War Museum. But before him, apart from the companionway leading to the Fore Cabin, virtually the only visible dots of colour were the brass caps on the battle-cruiser’s 15 inch guns. It was dusk by the time the German delegates arrived and as introductions were made and courtesies were exchanged, night fell, and they passed quickly below deck. In these few minutes the present ‘original sketch’ was painted and the artist felt that he had ‘got a fairly good impression of the arrival’. When he came to the later, larger version of the scene in his Kensington studio, the darkening grey of the wintry afternoon was transformed into a nocturne, preserving only the few details he could see. Lavery had trained himself for such moments. In his youth Bastien-Lepage had impressed upon him the need to cultivate a visual memory, and in this process the swift on-the-spot study was an essential aid. Back in London, its vital freshness must be preserved and he must resist the temptation to invent or elaborate.

But on that November day, there was no time to lose as he followed the party down to the ship’s fore cabin. He later recalled:

'As I was in mufti a uniform had to be found for me. The Commodore dressed me up in a post-captain’s discarded uniform that happened to fit. My painting things were hidden behind flowers on a side table, where I was unobserved by the delegates. … They were already seated when I took up my position, the door was closed and the proceedings began' (Lavery, op. cit., p. 146).

Admiral Sir David Beatty, the central figure in the row of British officers on the left of the table, read out the terms of the surrender. The German surface fleet would be interned while the Allies decided what to do with it, and U-boats would be delivered to Harwich. ‘Most people’, Lavery recalled ‘would have been all ears, but I was all eyes and heard very little’. Nevertheless he did catch Beatty’s severity, honed by years of hubris. Early successes in Beatty’s career had led to arrogance. The son of an Anglo-Irish Captain of Hussars, Beatty (1871-1936) had served with distinction the Sudan Campaign and the Boxer Rebellion, attaining the rank of Captain. By the start of the War he had advanced to Acting Rear Admiral and was under-study to Admiral Jellicoe at the Battle of Jutland. Lavery had already painted his portrait (National Portrait Gallery) on his first visit to HMS Queen Elizabeth, and in the new year Beatty wrote congratulating him on his knighthood and reported that his wife had admired the artist’s recent series of canvases depicting the British Fleet at Scapa Flow (Letter headed ‘Grand Fleet’, dated 22 March 1918, Hyman Kreitman Archive, Tate Britain. Lavery was knighted in the New Year’s Honours in 1918). Evidently concerned about his own image, Beatty then alludes to the ‘sketch you did of me’, which his wife did not like, and confesses that ‘being a restless individual’ he had been a poor sitter. ‘However’, he adds, ‘when I have really accomplished something you can have another shot but Lady Lavery must be there and I will promise to be still’. Such was Beatty’s vanity that a separate study was made in order to ensure accuracy in the finished canvas. Whether Hazel Lavery was present for this sitting, is not recorded.

However, in the tense circumstances of 15-16 November 1918, the German Admiral, Hugo Meurer, spoke ‘only once or twice’ to correct the interpreter ‘on some idiomatic point’. German papers, notably the Hamburger Nuchrichten, reported that ‘polite, cold, scornful regards greeted us’, and that their navy was received ‘with the greatest mistrust’ (Army and Navy Gazette, 21 December 1918). ‘Not to embarrass the delegates’, Lavery remembered,

'I chose a place behind them where what I was doing could not be seen, even if they should turn round, which the Zeppelin commander occasionally did … He was a young man of the Prussian type, with closely cropped hair and a flat back to his head … The Admiral, whose profile I could see at times … was dignified, but one could tell by his voice the strain under which he was labouring. The submarine commander next to him was somewhat aggressive if not defiant …' (Lavery, op. cit., pp. 147; quoted in McConkey, op. cit., p. 142).

After dinner on board, the meeting was adjourned, the painter stood to attention with the British officers and the Germans commanders filed out. They reconvened the next morning, during which time the present careful ‘fore cabin’ study was completed with all the names of those present recorded on the reverse. When, at one point Admiral Meurer was permitted to leave, the artist ducked out, in a state of exhaustion for, as he recalled, ‘I had been working at fever heat for eight hours and was dog-tired’. At this brief break, he heard Admiral Tyrwhitt, sitting two seats away from Beatty, beside Paymaster Commander Spickernell, heave a sigh, ‘I am damned sorry for those fellows’. Camaraderie, even in war, was evident among men of the sea.

In attendance at the signing is the final important figure, Beatty’s Flag Captain, Alfred Ernie Montacute Chatfield, seated with his back to the wall on the German side of the table in the background. Later First Sea Lord, he acquired these two important studies, and it is through his succession that they were preserved until the late 1990s. Apart from the acquisition of the current canvases, Chatfield had a distant connection with Lavery in the inter-war period. In 1938 Chatfield’s daughter Angela married Patrick Donner, son of the Finnish diplomat and Lavery patron, Ossian Donner. Both Patrick and his sister, Stella, had been Lavery sitters before the war.

Back in 1918, both original sketches were immediately taken to London and were quickly framed in Lavery’s standard ‘Spanish’ sections. Newspaper reports prior to the opening of the ‘Sea Power Exhibition’, a mere three weeks after the Armistice, indicated that both pictures would be on show, but in the event the ‘fore cabin’ sketch was retained for the Royal Academy in 1919, and only The Arrival of the German Delegates was dispatched to the Grosvenor Galleries’ show. It was nevertheless eagerly anticipated in the press as the first artistic celebration of victory. Many articles referred to the documentary value of the most recent Laverys, with The Times commenting particularly on the vivid, atmospheric qualities of the study of ‘enemy officers emerging from the surrounding darkness’. When both sketches appeared in the Academy in 1919 the Arrival … seemed somehow ‘more convincing’ than its companion showing the reading of the surrender terms - The Times critic once again noting that it ‘looks like something actually seen and enjoyed’ (Anon, ‘Relics of the War at Sea’, The Times, 4 December 1918; ‘Royal Academy: First Notice’, The Times, 5 May 1919, p. 18).

If this was the case it was also clear that the ‘surrender’ sketch presented difficulties way beyond those of its companion-piece. It was at once, both group portrait and historical moment. Lavery was supremely skilled at rendering such events, having painted the reception for Queen Victoria at the Glasgow International Exhibition back in 1888. Here however, cabin conditions were cramped and intimacy enforced to an extent that denied the possibility of grand triumphal gestures – or indeed the sort of badinage that William Orpen witnessed in the Peace Conference at Versailles. The German surrender was like a rather stiff board meeting.

As in that early Glasgow commission, the sketch would form the basis of the larger work, but where the one took two years to finish, the large Imperial War Museum work, 87 x 109 inches, must be completed for the 1920 Academy (no. 199). In every respect it faithfully replicates the ‘original sketch’. Sir Eric Geddes, in his speech at the Sea Power Exhibition declared that ‘sea power is the birth-right of our race’, and while in that moment, no one would dispute the claim, Lavery’s canvases were refreshingly devoid of jingoism. Reproducing the enlarged version of The Fore Cabin … in colour, in his anthology of Modern Masterpieces, the critic Frank Rutter was obliged to conclude that its painter was not simply a successful portrait painter, but a ‘brilliant chronicler’ of ‘actual events and … scenes of importance’ (Modern Masterpieces, with an Outline of Art, vol. 2, n.d., [c. 1935] (Newnes), pp. 331-2). In 1918, as the guns fell silent, and November mists swirled on the Firth of Forth, there was nothing more important.

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

More from Modern British Art Day Sale

View All
View All