The Étang de Berre, the largest of a group of inland saltwater lagoons not far from Marseilles, was where Augustus John arrived in 1910, taking the train that skirted its shores to Martigues, a small fishing port that so enchanted him that he decided to rent the Villa Ste Anne, where his family would stay intermittently until 1928. A travelling companion, Helen Maitland, at the time in love with Henry Lamb, described seeing the Etangs from the train: ‘All the way from Arles I was ecstatic with delight ... simply speechless with astonishment at the curious light blue of one Etang we passed. It was so bright that it made the sky look dull and dark. […] On the other side was a vast stony plain, quite limitless and bare except for sage bushes and sheep’ (A. John, quoted in M. Holroyd, Augustus John, The New Biography, New York, 1996). In his own words, Augustus described a local group of artists using palette knives to transpose ‘the pearl-white and rose of the buildings into the more popular scheme of mustard and mauve’, and it is interesting to see that unusually for Augustus, he appears to have used a palette knife for the pearly white and rose of the building in the present work. Some of his most sought after landscapes were painted during visits to Martigues. The Little Railway, Martigues, 1928, is in Tate Britain.
We are very grateful to Rebecca John for preparing this catalogue entry.