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)

The Cigar Seller at the Glasgow Exhibition

Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
The Cigar Seller at the Glasgow Exhibition
signed and dated 'J Lavery 88' (lower right)
oil on canvas
12 x 15 in. (30.5 x 38.1 cm.)
The Collection of the Col. David Smiley.
His sale; Christie's, London, 13 March 1981, lot 39.
with Fine Art Society, London, 1988.
Exhibition catalogue, The Face of Scotland: The Land and its People, Edinburgh, Fine Art Society, 1981, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Sir John Lavery R.A. 1856-1941, Edinburgh, Fine Art Society, 1984, p. 37, no. 33, illustrated.
R. Billcliffe, The Glasgow Boys, London, 1985, p. 215, illustrated.
S.K. Hunter, Kelvingrove and the 1888 Exhibition, Glasgow, 1990, pp. 138, 142.
K. McConkey, Sir John Lavery, Edinburgh, 1993, p. 56.
R. Billcliffe, The Glasgow Boys, London, 2008, pp. 191, 193, illustrated.
K. McConkey, Sir John Lavery, a Painter and his World, Edinburgh, 2010, p. 44, fig. 47.
Glasgow, Craibe Angus & Son, Pictures and Sketches of International Exhibition, October 1888.
Paisley, Art Institute, Annual Exhibition, 1889, no. 82.
Edinburgh, Fine Art Society, The Face of Scotland: The Land and its People, August - September 1981.
Edinburgh, Fine Art Society, Sir John Lavery R.A. 1856-1941, August - September 1984, no. 33: 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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From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot.

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Anne Haasjes
Anne Haasjes

Lot Essay

Of all the sketches of stall-holders and craft demonstrators painted at the great exhibition held at Glasgow's Kelvinside Park in 1888, John Lavery's The Cigar Seller at the Glasgow Exhibition stands out as the most thrilling. In the Tobacco Kiosk, a short walk from the main exhibition building, he found a shop assistant standing silhouetted in front of leaded windows, behind a counter covered in cigar boxes. She wears a tartan sash and a bonnet pinned to her hair. The random zigzag placing of the boxes on the semi-circular counter takes the eye into the space of the shop and up to the frieze of frosted glass behind the figure. While the fall of light from this ornate source is carefully managed it does not detract from the spontaneity of the composition. Lavery wants to make us feel that we have just entered the kiosk and are about to make a purchase. It is likely that the atmospheric quality of the interior was in small measure due to the fact that it was frequented by 'gentlemen smokers'.

The International Exhibition which provided the opportunity for this memorable encounter had been eagerly anticipated. It followed several years of planning and two previous exhibitions at Edinburgh in 1886 and Manchester in 1887. Ancient rivalry between the two Scottish cities meant that at the concourse of the Clyde, the Cart and the Kelvin was keen to outdo its immediate neighbour. Edinburgh may be the Scottish capital, but Glasgow was the 'Second City of the Empire'. As plans for the show were reported in The Glasgow Herald in 1887, it became obvious to young artists that their input to the planning had been marginal. James Guthrie and other Glasgow 'Boys' conducted an effective correspondence in the press informing the organizers that there was an emerging group of 'sincere art workers' whose views had not been sought. The result was a series of piecemeal commissions to Lavery, Guthrie, Edward Arthur Walton and George Henry for roundels placed high in the dome of the main exhibition building - so high in fact that they were for the most part, ignored or found to be out of keeping with the 'Khubla Khan' character of the large temporary structure that housed them. The other 'Boys' must be content with a substantial presence in the Fine Arts section of the exhibition where the avant-garde character of their work was recognized - Guthrie showing his early work, To Pastures New (Aberdeen Art Gallery) and Lavery, the newly-completed Dawn after the Battle of Langside (private collection).

However, only Lavery realised the exhibition's enormous potential as popular spectacle, setting himself up as a sort of artist-in-residence after the exhibition opened in May. He may well have hatched this plan in conjunction with the art dealer, William Craibe Angus whose luxury goods emporium and gallery had opened in Glasgow's Queen Street in 1874. Here Lavery would show the results of his endeavours in October 1888, one month before the closure of the exhibition - in all some fifty works. These ranged from general views of the exhibition by day and night, interiors such as the sculpture court and the Indian restaurant, specific buildings such as the reconstructed Bishop's Palace and events like the military tattoo presented on the playing fields adjacent to the main buildings. There were also scenes of the elaborate Doulton Fountain, re-christened the 'Fairy Fountain' because it lit up in the evenings - surpassed only by the lanterns on the romantic Venetian gondola, specially imported to carry visitors up and down the Kelvin. In addition to these Lavery also produced a group of waitress and shop assistant 'portraits' at the exhibition. These include a ceramic 'paintress', a Welsh weaver, a curry cook, an Indian waiter and a café waitress dressed as 'Mary, Queen of Scots'. However, while the other characters pose, Lavery's Cigar Seller is 'caught' on a bright day in the shadowy interior of her shop.

The Turkish-style Tobacco Kiosk, designed by James Sellars, was known as Au Bon Fumeur and, franchised to Alfred Howell, a local importer with a shop on Union Street. It offered the exotic products of B Muratti et Cie of Constantinople, a cigar and smoking mixture manufacturer. It was one of two small buildings flanking the approaches to the Fairy Fountain in the centre of the park, close to two bridges which brought visitors from the main exhibition hall, roughly where Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery stands today, across the river. Although described as 'kiosks' they were substantial two-storey buildings. A Flower Show, Glasgow International Exhibition (Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery) is probably an aerial view of the interior of the other kiosk, which sold confectionery and flowers. Lavery is likely to have used one of the upper balconies of Au Bon Fumeur, where coffee was served to gentlemen smokers, as the viewpoint for his largest study of The Glasgow International Exhibition, 1888 (Glasgow Museums).

Of his Glasgow International paintings, The Cigar Seller at the Glasgow Exhibition expresses everything there is to say about this ambitious young painter. Its innovative impressionistic technique and composition would be unthinkable for the other painters of the Glasgow School at this stage, with the sole exception of Arthur Melville. It tempts us with the thought that Lavery's instinct, faced with this dramatic contre jour effect was to recollect the work of Edgar Degas. The litter of boxes recalls the books and papers across which we view Edmond Duranty in Degas's celebrated portrait, but this of course was not shown in public until after the painter's death. So what Degas would Lavery have seen in 1888? Could he possibly have viewed l'Absinthe 1876 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), with its splendid foreground zigzag of tabletops, then in the collection of Captain Hill in Brighton? Were photographs of pictures like these in circulation? While he missed the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881, he was in Paris the following year when the seventh was held, but had left France before the final show in 1886. However Degas was not represented in the 1882 show, although his work may have been studied in the Durand-Ruel Impressionist shows in London in 1882 and 1883, had Lavery been there. Since much of 1884 was spent at Grez-sur-Loing, we can only safely assume that he might have toured the shops in rue Lafitte on the way back to Glasgow in November. Did he travel to Paris to see the Salon and tour the dealers' galleries in 1887? While visual sources for the splendid spontaneity of The Cigar Seller at the Glasgow Exhibition are difficult to determine and will remain the subject of speculation, the picture's innovative character certainly vindicates the opinion of a critic in The Bailie who viewed the Craibe Angus exhibition. 'In these half-a-hundred canvases', he wrote,

'... Mr Lavery has not only set down half-a-hundred impressions of the Exhibition, but he has painted half-a-hundred strikingly effective works of art. Even in the slightest of his studies he is never weak or common, and throughout the entire series he has never repeated himself, either in the matter of scene, arrangement, colour or effect (3 October 1888, p. 11)'.

For the painter, the success of the Craibe Angus venture was not principally in sales.

Lavery had sketched the reception of Queen Victoria before a huge gathering of Scottish dignitaries during a State Visit on 22 August 1888, and recognizing the importance of the occasion the city council commissioned a large group portrait showing all 253 persons who were present on the day. It took a further two years to complete this task and effectively established his clientele, and reputation, as the leading portraitist of his day. Nevertheless the range and effectiveness of his Glasgow International canvases laid a deeper foundation in that it prepared the 'artist-reporter' to respond creatively to a whole variety of different situations from the public ceremonial to the intimate glimpse of a shop assistant plying her trade. Nothing could be more magic than this moment when we walk into Au Bon Fumeur for a Turkish cigar.

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

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