Immediately after the cessation of hostilities the Laverys were invited to North Berwick to stay at Westerdunes, the home of Sir Patrick Ford, Solicitor General for Scotland.2 On this first post-war trip Lavery also visited his old friend, the Scots painter, Patrick William Adam who lived nearby at Ardilea.3 Ford's country house overlooked the ninth hole of the North Berwick golf course and its magnificent views of the coastline caught the painter's eye every time he went there. Views of the course, the gardens of Westerdunes and Ardilea, the public bathing pool and the shore at Tyninghame were painted in 1919, 1920 and 1921 respectively.
Around fifteen paintings of the golf course have been identified, but not all have been traced. The precise order in which these pictures were executed is also difficult to determine and it is possible that the artist himself dated them incorrectly. The high point of the series is provided by three works - a large canvas, 68½ x 79¼ inches, now known as Playing Golf at North Berwick (sold Sotheby's London, 26 November 1997, lot 21), showing a group of golfers on the green, a smaller closely related version of this composition, with the same figures, The Golf Links, North Berwick (fig. 1, 25 x 30 in., sold Christie's, 17 May 2001, lot 38) and a similar composition, with a more dramatic atmosphere, The Golf Course, North Berwick, (fig. 2, 24 x 30 in., sold Christie's, 23 November 2005, lot 4). All three take the setting of the present landscape. The large version was shown at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts in 1922, while three others, probably painted from the same location, but showing different views of the course, appeared in John and Hazel Lavery's joint exhibition at the Alpine Club Gallery in 1921.4
Thus, Lavery's prime focus in the golfing series was the small hillock used for teeing off, in the present picture. It provided a perfect viewing platform for a series of canvases which record the main points of local topography. Looking across the bay, the island of Fidra is just visible on the extreme right of North Berwick No. 3. Beyond, the coastline curves more sharply into the approaches to the Firth of Forth. In some examples, those painted on clearer days, the hills of Fife are visible. The estate of North Berwick course, arguably the oldest in Scotland, was used by the Scottish kings in the 16th Century for "shinnie", a primitive predecessor of the present game. Laid out in the early 19th Century, the course had changed little by Lavery's time, although its popularity had been confirmed with the addition of a dedicated Ladies Links. The market on the edge of the tee probably indicated the hole number with a receptacle presumably used for found golf balls, beside it.
This favoured vantage point permitted the observation of blustery skies which are characteristic of the area. Lavery recorded them at different times of the day. In this regard the comparison of the present example with that donated by Lord Duveen to the Tate Gallery in 1922 is instructive (fig. 4). Although the artist's viewpoint is slightly different, the subtle silvery light of the setting sun in the present work is replaced by a more insistent cobalt, reflected in the sea, in the Tate picture. It may be fanciful to assume that Alice Trudeau, the energetic young golfer and her friends seen in The Golf Course, North Berwick (fig. 2) have moved on, leaving the patch of muddy earth in the foreground - and note at the same time that this has revived in the Tate version.
Nevertheless the two paintings are separated even further in time by the fact that the inflow tide in the present example, has ebbed in the Tate picture, leaving an expanse of sand. This dispels the notion that both canvases were mere studies for more ambitious works, and suggests that the painter was happy to leave his party to their play while he worked. In any case, he had little aptitude for the game, recalling wryly that he once told a Scottish caddie that he 'was not much of a golfer' - and 'he agreed with me'.5
1 The present canvas is one of six North Berwicks paintings which remained in the artist's studio at the time of his death.
2 Lavery had passed through Edinburgh during the winter of 1917-18 en route to Scapa Flow and to paint the surrender of the German Navy in November 1918. Contacts with Ford, which predate the war are likely to have been renewed at this time. Ford was a distinguised collector of contemporary Scottish art, with a particular affection for the work of Francis Campbell Boileau (Bunty) Cadell. It was he and Lord Birkenhead who arranged for Lavery to paint the Ratification of the Irish Treaty in the House of Lords in 1921.
3 See P. J. Ford, 'Introduction and Biographical Note', Interior Paintings by Patrick W Adam, RSA, Glasgow, 1920. Ford was also a notable collector of Adam's work.
4 These were The Ladies Links, North Berwick, 1919, (Christie's, 9 June 1978, lot 23) The First Green, North Berwick, circa 1920 (Phillips, 10 March 1992, lot 46) and The Putting Course, North Berwich, circa 1920 (unlocated).
5 J. Lavery, The Life of a Painter, London, 1940, p. 183.