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)
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 Viscountess Castlerosse, Palm Springs

SIR JOHN LAVERY, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941)
The Viscountess Castlerosse, Palm Springs
signed ‘J. Lavery’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
40 x 50 in. (101.6 x 127 cm.)
Painted in 1938.
The artist, and by descent to his granddaughter, Lady Ann Sempill.
Her sale; Christie’s, London, 13 May 1966, lot 77, as 'Portrait of Lady Castlerosse, seated on a springboard at Palm Springs'.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 22 May 1997, lot 264, as 'Lady Castlerosse on a diving board', where purchased by the present owner.
‘Lady Castlerosse sits to Sir John Lavery …’ The Tatler, 9 March 1938, p. 44.
‘Foreign Travel Department’, The Bystander, 9 March 1938, p. 369.
‘Air from Hollywood’, Nottingham Journal, 29 March 1938, p. 1.
‘In Social Circles’, Belfast Newsletter, 2 April 1938, p. 5.
‘Academy Has Exhausted its Sensations’, Dundee Courier, 30 April 1938, p. 5.
The Royal Academy Illustrated, London, 1938, p. 58, no. 238, as 'The Viscountess Castlerosse', illustrated.
‘Our London Letter’, Irish Independent, 30 April 1938, p. 10.
‘Painting at 82’, Daily Herald, 30 April 1938, p. 6.
‘What Every Woman Wants To Know’, The Sketch, 4 May 1938, p. 224.
‘Formal and Informal Portraits at the RA’, The Sketch, 4 May 1938, p. 231, illustrated.
'28 Leading Painters Represented’, Yorkshire Post, 12 May 1938, p. 5.
L. Mosley, Castlerosse, London, 1956, p. 160.
K. McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, Edinburgh, 2010, p. 205.
London, Royal Academy, 1938, no. 238, as 'The Viscountess Castlerosse'.

Brought to you by

Angus Granlund
Angus Granlund Director, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

In 1936 Lavery received an invitation to visit an old friend who was ailing, the painter, Gordon Coutts (McConkey 2010, pp. 198-200). Coutts had constructed ‘Dar Maroc’, a Moroccan-style villa at Palm Springs in memory of the happier times when he and Lavery had met in Tangier. For the elderly London-based artist the idea of a winter escape with the added attraction of visiting Hollywood, was greatly appealing. The film studios, as he quickly discovered, were no place for a painter and his best works were produced at the house in Palm Springs.

Two years later, he learned that Coutts’s dying wish had been that his wife, Gertrude, an opera singer, should invite the painter to return for a longer stay, and with memories of good hospitality and the possibility of Californian sitters, Lavery, with his granddaughter, Ann Forbes-Sempill, and secretary, Katharine Fitzgerald, set forth once more (McConkey 2010, pp. 202-205). This second trip, however, began in disaster. After the first week, Lavery’s hostess was killed in a car-crash returning from a restaurant. Ann, Katharine and he escaped unscathed, and since others were arriving shortly and portrait sessions were arranged with Lady Castlerosse for the coming weeks, all were encouraged to remain at Dar Maroc. It was at this point, by the pool, in warm winter sunlight, that the present canvas was painted.

Back in 2010, following Mosley’s account (Mosley, 1956, p. 107) and erroneous contemporary press cuttings, the present writer located the work in Florida (McConkey, 2010, p. 205). Information which came to light subsequently through Pamela Korst, Gertrude’s granddaughter, and other sources, now enables this to be corrected.

Lavery had of course, already painted Doris Castlerosse’s portrait in 1933 when her marriage to Valentine Browne, Viscount Castlerosse, was already under strain. Having visited the Kenmare estate in 1913 to portray Lady Dorothy, the viscount’s sister, the Laverys were already well-known to the Castlerosse family. It is certainly the case that following their marriage in 1928, the two couples met socially (Mosley, 1956, p. 99). During a sitting however, Doris is reported to have asked the painter, ‘If I were divorced, it would not make any difference, would it, Sir John?’ Lavery’s diplomatic reply is unrecorded, but his wife, Hazel, was known to admire Doris’s ability to survive ‘rebuffs and unpopularity’ – the ‘same qualities as Ramsay MacDonald’ (George Malcolm Thomson, Lord Castlerosse, His Life and Times, 1973, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, pp. 110-111). A columnist of the period provided a vivid pen-portrait of Lady Castlerosse in the following terms:

'She is well turned-out with no exaggeration. She has no habits. She does not pick the varnish off her fingernails. She does not twist her ring around her finger. She does not smoke cigarettes. She does not drink champagne. She does not disdain bad language. She makes full use of the common idiom in her speech' (Mosley, 1956, p. 108; quoting from The Daily Express, 12 July 1932).

Born Doris Delevingne (1900-1942), daughter of a French lace and silk importer, Lady Castlerosse rose to fame in the twenties when sharing a flat with the actress, Gertrude Lawrence. She was regarded as a ‘gold-digger’ even though her husband, a failed banker, turned gossip columnist for the Sunday Express, had little money. At the time of her first sittings to Lavery she was having an affair with Randolph Churchill. Reports of a dalliance with his father, Winston, are complemented by his two portraits of Doris (David Coombs and Minnie S Churchill, Sir Winston Churchill, His Life and His Paintings, 2011, Ware House Publishing, cat. nos C152 & C158). In Hollywood in 1938, around the time she was sitting to Lavery on this second occasion, she was attending premieres and social events with Mr and Mrs Fred Astaire, Moira Shearer and Darryl Zanuck. Meeting the eighty-two-year-old painter in January 1938, at Palm Springs was likely, nevertheless, to have been a moment of calm in an otherwise full Hollywood diary.

Sittings in which the ‘model’s dais … was the spring-board’, were conducted by the pool at the Moroccan-style villa. Lavery composed the picture from two sketches using his portable easel.

This was his normal method. One of these indicates the figure and setting, while the second contains more detail, including the legs of an offstage observer. This smaller version, (probably Second Sketch for ‘Lady Castlerosse’, 1938, private collection), appears to have been included in a display at Wimborne House later that year (both studies are listed in the Probate List of Contents of 5 Cromwell Place, February 1941).

Close observation of the present Academy version, however, reveals that while these were useful preparations, the large canvas was also worked on the spot and details altered as it progressed. Contemporary photographs, reproduced in The Tatler and The Bystander, reminded social commentators in Britain and Ireland of Doris’s reputation and generated publicity for the painting, then approaching completion. Some recalled that Valentine had filed for divorce in December and the case was finally heard in June 1938 while Lavery’s picture was on display in the Academy.

Other commentators noted that the present canvas had been used as a makeshift bed when Ann and Katharine drove it all the way from Palm Springs to New York for onward transfer by ship to London. Early spring 1938 was marked by severe weather and widespread flooding in California, and when the two young women set off in a shooting-brake only to discover that a bridge was down and roads impassable, they were obliged to sleep in the car, on top of the canvas (reported in the press, this story was confirmed by Lady Sempill in conversation with the author in the late 1980s). When revealed to the public, Lavery’s model, ‘pretty and very young-looking’, her legendary legs dangling over the pool, was almost carefree. Although she wears white court shoes in the photographs as The Sketch noted, the artist ‘has not forgotten to record the gay-lacquered toe-nails of Lady Castlerosse in his bathing portrait of her’ (‘What Every Woman Wants To Know’, The Sketch, 4 May 1938, p. 224). And as a master stroke, the artist includes the legs of the unseen, unidentified companion on the left of the canvas. A contemporary photograph which has recently come to light, indicates that these also belong to Castlerosse, snapped wearing a hairnet, shorts and plimsoles, during a break between the sittings (alternative theories, one advanced by Katharine FitzGerald, suggesting that the unseen observer was ‘a film director’, or another, that the legs belong to Doris’s brother, can be discounted).

Beside her, the present canvas is in progress and we can see that the ornate white garden chair, originally in the background, has been removed and adroitly placed under the figure reading, in place of the ugly wooden lounger. Lavery was clearly aware of the universal admiration for the famous Castlerosse limbs and secretly pays his own tribute, by painting them not once, but twice.

And of course, he had painted swimming pools before, in Florida and on the Riviera. The setting fascinated him. Art lovers today regard David Hockney as the ‘owner’ of Californian pool imagery. It may come as a surprise to some to discover that an aged Irish painter shared his enthusiasm and acted as its precedent.

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

Viscountess Castlerosse was the owner of the infamous Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, which after her death was sold by the Delevingne family to Peggy Guggenheim, and is now the Guggenheim Museum, Venice.
For more information on Viscountess Castlerosse’s colourful life please refer to Judith Mackrell, The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice, Thames & Hudson, 2017.

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