SIR JOHN LAVERY, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
SIR JOHN LAVERY, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
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)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
SIR JOHN LAVERY, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)

A Villa on the Riviera

SIR JOHN LAVERY, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
A Villa on the Riviera
signed 'J Lavery' (lower left), signed again, inscribed and dated 'John Lavery A Villa on the Riviera 1920' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28 x 25 in. (71.1 x 63.5 cm.)
Painted in 1921.
The artist, and by descent to Mrs Alice McEnery, circa 1946.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 16 May 1996, lot 474, where purchased by the present owner.
K. McConkey, Sir John Lavery, Edinburgh, 1993, pp. 147-148, as 'The Villa Sylvia, Cap Ferrat'.
K. McConkey, Sir John Lavery: A Painter and his World, Edinburgh, 2010, pp. 151-152, fig. 177, as 'The Villa Sylvia, Cap Ferrat'.
London, Leicester Galleries, Portrait Interiors by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1925, no. 20.
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, Annual Exhibition, 1926, no. 370.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Normally, with the onset of winter, Sir John Lavery had itchy feet. In December 1919, after five years dominated by war, there was a desperate rush to escape to his house at Tangier – a ritual that had sustained him through earlier years when his portrait practice flourished. Clichés like ‘washing the studio light from his eyes’ applied. On this occasion however, he quickly discovered that the North African spell had been broken and after visits to Marrakech and Fez, the decision was taken to sell his bolt-hold overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar and become a hivernant on the Riviera.

Departure for the south of France the following December was, nevertheless, delayed due to construction work at the rear of his house at 5 Cromwell Place. When he finally arrived at the stylish Eden-Grand Hotel, at Cap d’Ail in February 1921, one can sense the relief as he reported enthusiastically to his daughter Eileen, that there were, ‘pictures at every turn’ and ‘you cannot imagine how beautiful the landscapes, gardens, villas and sea are’ (letters dated 6 and 21 March 1921, private correspondence). Several paintings were executed on tours of nearby villas – of which the present example is the most striking, and while coastal views of Monte Carlo, Beaulieu and Mont Boron were painted - the beautiful inlet of La Mala was reserved for the occasion when his pupil, Winston Churchill, joined him for a few days at the beginning of April.

One of the gardens Lavery visited was that of the ‘Villa Sylvia’ on nearby Cap Ferrat. Back in 1996, it was thought that A Villa on the Riviera was a view of the Sylvia, then still owned by Curtis family. However, the upper floor Palladian ambulatory overlooking the little harbour of St Jean-Cap-Ferrat and the Colombier peninsula, seen in the present canvas matches neither the style of the house, nor the views from its location. It can now be concluded that in addition to the Sylvia, Lavery also visited the more palatial ‘Les Cèdres’, the hilltop estate on Cap Ferrat acquired by King Leopold II of Belgium in 1904. This belle époque palace, originally constructed in 1830, was extended and remodelled by various owners including Leopold, adding formal gardens that contrast with the English informality of those at the Villa Sylvia.

Leopold had already acquired an estate at nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer for his mistress, Blanche Zélie Josephine Delacroix, (aka Caroline Lacroix, aka Baroness Vaughan,1883-1948) when Les Cèdres became available. He was 65 and she sixteen when they first met in 1900, and although they were married shortly before his death in 1909, lawsuits immediately began to reclaim some of the wealth with which he endowed her. Sale of both properties - Les Cèdres along with that at Villefranche – was arranged at the time of the Versailles peace conference when the chatelaine, now in her late thirties, was no longer in residence.

Lavery’s access to the property in the spring of 1921, is likely to have been granted by his, and Winston Churchill’s friend, the retired banker, Sir Ernest Cassel, who was eyeing the house with a view to purchase. Cassel was currently staying at the Hotel Regine at Cimiez with his granddaughter, Edwina Ashley, later Lady Mountbatten, and he and Lady Lavery were pictured at the Beaulieu tennis tournament in early March. It is probable that the woman depicted in the present work is a mutual friend accompanying the Laverys and may even be Miss Ashley. The sale was probably concluded in Paris in mid-April around the time, or just after Cassel’s return to London (‘Today’s Gossip’, The Daily Mirror, 15 April 1921, p. 3). The news, however, was only made public in August when rumours began to circulate that the buyer was King George V. Sadly Cassel did not live to entertain His Majesty at Les Cèdres as he was discovered by his manservant, slumped over his desk having suffered a heart attack, the following month (‘King’s Palace for Banker – Famous Villa bought by Sir E Cassell - £88,00 – King George as probable Guest’, Pall Mall Gazette, 11 August 1921, p. 4).

Cassel’s sudden death may well have deterred the painter from exhibiting the canvas in his forthcoming Alpine Club exhibition and it was only when Les Cèdres had passed to the Marnier-Lapostolle dynasty that the painting appeared in his much-lauded Leicester Galleries exhibition in October 1925. The theme of this show, the ‘portrait interior’, was the depiction of the rooms of celebrities, most of whom were identified. A Villa on the Riviera was the mystery picture in the show, to be recognised only by the few. The special privilege that took the painter into the private domains of the Oxford and Asquiths, the Wimbornes and Lady Cunard had also brought him here to a rooftop terrace on Cap Ferrat, with its anonymous occupants including a stylish young woman with her Pekinese.

Lavery had painted pergolas, pavilions and verandas on many occasions, but none so capricious as this; he had little sense of the ingenious protocols of the painter of capriccios. His mathematics were all in what he saw; he did not sit down with a T-square and protractors; architectural puzzles were not for him. His view of the world was that of the sketcher who seizes the moment in all its complexity. Mastery is avid of entanglement. Here, the silent arcade supported on ionic orders framing the matchless cobalt of the Mediterranean is animated by the arrival of an elegant sitter whose cape, frock and flesh tones are in accord with the terracotta columns that surround her - and she sits for just long enough. It is a momentous occurrence when the centuries that took Piero to Palladio and on to Edwardian pastiche collapsed into the instant.

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