During the 1920s, Lavery became an informal artist-in-residence at Westerdunes, Sir Patrick Ford's spacious villa at North Berwick, and the setting for numerous weekend parties.1 Ford, then at the height of his political influence, was Member of Parliament for Edinburgh, and Solicitor General for Scotland.2 A noted connoisseur and collector of contemporary Scottish painting, Sir Patrick had known the painter since he commissioned his wife's portrait in 1909.3 Whilst it does not rival his love of the dramatic topography of the Straits of Gibraltar at Tangier, the painter's fascination with the striking coastal landscape on the eastern approaches to Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth was sustained through regular visits between 1919 and 1924. In addition to beach, garden and swimming pool scenes painted at the villa, in the town itself, nearby at Tyninghame and at 'Ardilea', the home of his painter colleague, Patrick William Adam, the central corpus of North Berwick canvases is made up of fifteen recently identified golf course pictures, the majority of which were painted close to the entrance of Westerdunes. The Fords' son, Harold, a boy at the time, recalled these merry occasions when guests would congregate around the roaring fire in the drawing room after a day on the course.4 Since Ford's country residence faces the ancient North Berwick course, golf provided the principal recreation for his guests, although tennis, plus tours of his recently installed miniature Japanese garden and bracing walks along the beach to the town, or to the palatial Marine Hotel were also on offer. Given the circumstances of the gift of the present picture to Mr and Mrs Charles Stewart Carstairs, it is likely that they were invited to one of Ford's parties around the time the picture was painted.
Back in 1912 Lavery had sketched the Carstairs, their daughter, Lily, and son, Stewart, at Comb's House near Kingston-upon-Thames, a villa rented for the season. These wealthy anglophile Americans savouring the delights of an English country garden are pictured in The Veranda (fig. 1).5 The Jamesian moment of quiet reverie - Stewart, seated in a wicker chair, is shown in tennis 'whites' - belies the purpose of the visit. Carstairs père, chairman of the New York firm of M. Knoedler Inc., was one the most important art dealers of his day and at this point was negotiating the purchase of George Stubbs's masterpiece, Captain Samuel Sharpe Pocklington with his wife, Pleasance, 1769, later donated by Mrs Carstairs to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, in memory of her husband. He was also interested in meeting British artists such as William Orpen, for whom he hoped to arrange exhibitions at Knoedler's.6
The friendship formed with Lavery before the Great War and renewed after it, was crucial to Carstairs' ambitions, even though the painter was already well-known in the United States and would later be taken up by Joseph Duveen.7 Unfailingly generous, Lavery may well have presented The Golf Links, North Berwick, to Carstairs as they stood together on the course.
As with The Golf Course, North Berwick (lot 114) drama distinguishes Lavery's earlier representations of the game. The artist instantly responded to the scudding clouds that swept across the Firth of Forth. His high viewpoint, looking down on the fairways, suggests that on some occasions, he may even have worked from an upstairs window at Westerdunes. Later paintings of the same scene, such as that donated by Duveen to the Tate Gallery were executed on calmer days with a lower horizon, although in each case the right of the picture is punctuated by the offshore island of Fidra, a 13th Century monastic settlement which captivated the young Robert Louis Stevenson. Moving down on to the course in 1922 also effectively removes the interesting patchwork of dunes and sand bunkers which distinguish the present work from a mere landscape and make it one of the most arresting of the series.
Here the painter's eagle-eye could pick out clusters of players forming and disbanding as they walked the gently undulating hills that once were used by the kings of Scotland for 'shinny', the antecedent to the present game. Along with St Andrews, the North Berwick club has a venerable history. Founded in 1832 by members of the local 'gentry and nobility', it was commemorated in a celebrated group portrait by Sir Francis Grant, P.R.A. It was also one of the first to establish its own ladies' links - a nine-hole course established in 1868 - with a separate ladies' club formed in 1888 and its own clubhouse constructed in the grounds of the Marine Hotel.8 This did not preclude joint games - as here.
Lavery of course, made no secret of his lack of distinction as a player. He records that he 'once told a Scottish caddie that I was not much of a golfer and he agreed with me' (see Alice Gwynn's comments in the catalogue note to lot 114). When he said the same to an Irish caddie, the response was '"Ah, sir, there are very few men can play like you"'9. He may not have been much of a golfer, but he was clearly entranced by the game - for this we can be grateful. No doubt had he been a better player, we may not have had such a splendid sequence.
1 Although it has been broken up into separate apartments, the formal gardens at Westerdunes remain, although the Japanese garden is much overgrown.
2 It was Ford and Lord Birkenhead who, hearing of his portraits of the protagonists in the struggle for independence, arranged for Lavery to paint a commemorative canvas of the passing of the Irish Treaty in the House of Lords in December 1921.
3 For Ford, see McConkey 2010, pp. 147, 151, 200, 207. Ford's mother's portrait was executed circa 1907 and at least three versions of Mrs Patrick Ford, circa 1909 are known. In addition to Lavery, he was a close friend of Francis Campbell Boileau (Bunty) Cadell and he possessed an extensive collection of the work of the Scottish Colourist.
4 I am grateful to the late Sheriff Harold Ford for recounting these occasions to me in 1990.
5 The Veranda was sold in Christie's New York, 19 February 1992. The picture also includes a family friend, Hélène Montu, dressed in white.
6 Lavery, already well-known in the United States, was of course represented by Duveen. Orpen's marriage portrait of Lily Carstairs (private collection), was shown at the Royal Academy in 1915.
7 McConkey, 2010, pp. 159, 172ff.
8 For a fuller account see www.northberwickgolfclub.com/c_history_of_nbgc.aspx
9 John Lavery, The Life of a Painter, 1940 (Cassell), p. 183.
We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for preparing this catalogue entry.