When he moved to London in 1896, Lavery resisted Whistlerian formulae. Unlike 'the Master's' other followers, he would not reside in Chelsea and paint riverside nocturnes. Indeed as a successful international portrait painter he had no need to seek inspiration from the London scene. The city was simply the most convenient place in the world to have a studio. It was only in the year prior to the Great War that he first succumbed to the charms of the Thames, upstream at Maidenhead and on visits to the Asquith and Oxfords at The Wharf, Sutton Courtenay. However his explorations were curtailed during the following four years and they only truly resumed in 1919 when his duties as an Official War Artist were complete. That summer the Laverys were invited to a weekend party at Taplow Court by Lady Desborough. Here, and in the immediate environs of Maidenhead, the painter executed a number of landscapes and river views of which the present example may be one (fig 1).
It is impossible not to feel a sense of liberation in Lavery's brush at that time. The unprecedented freedom of handling seen in The Path by the River, Maidenhead is almost unprecedented. Since his early Impression dans la sous bois , 1884, he had been fascinated by the effects of sunlight falling through trees and creating fugitive, dappled effects.
With the busy round of commissions, managing the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, and making regular forays to Tangier, this aspect of Lavery's work, save for a few exceptional garden scenes, remained on hold. In 1919 however, the flush of summer sunlight struck him forcibly. The path through the trees revealing distant figures, one wearing a bright red hat, superficially recalls the work of the Barbizon masters, however the sheer fluidity of Lavery's handling places him in another time and space. Closer allegiances are to be found with the work of the Impressionists, particularly with the later work of Monet and Renoir. Lavery's Maidenhead is more reminiscent of the lush vegetation of the côte d'azure than a British summer day and as such it may express the painter's longing for the warmer climes and more strident palette he was yet to discover in Nice and Cannes.
In 1919 this was a unique experience. Other comparisons came later in the 1920s when, renting a houseboat, Lavery painted a sequence of river views - boating scenes at Rememham and Taggs Island, that gradually resolved themselves into classic views of the regattas at Henley and Maidenhead in the early thirties. The present canvas portrays no such occasion, nor does it fit with some ulterior purpose. It simply expresses a joyous sense of visual delight. Reflecting on his recent war work, scenes of munitions factories, North Sea convoys and troops embarking for the Western Front, Lavery came to the conclusion that he had responded simply to 'new beauties of design'. Making some deeper philosophic point was not the artist's job - reacting to the scene before his eyes was enough. It involved a form of self-surrender, in which people, setting and objects exchange their identity for shapes and colours, light and shade. Only in this way could the painter bring the warmth, fragrance and sounds of a summer's day by the river to his audience.