The legacy of Lavery's first trips to Grez-sur-Loing in 1883 and 1884 was a lifelong attraction to riverscapes and pleasure boating. His further visits to the artists' colony in 1897 and 1900 confirmed this essential subject matter. His second version of The Bridge at Grez (Ulster Museum, Belfast), painted a few years before Summertime, was applauded for its 'technical accomplishment' which was considered 'indeed remarkable'. Its 'skilful and free rendering of the limpid water [was particularly] worthy of praise' (The Magazine of Art, 1904, p. 309), as was the handling of the ladies in the boat. Summertime therefore represents a return to the theme of dolce far niente, which, for Lavery was now inextricably bound up with figures reclining in river boats.
The present work may have been painted on the Thames or at Ranelagh Gardens, a popular haunt at this time, where there was a boating lake. It may be a first idea for a larger reconsideration of the theme which was only realized in such works as The Thames at Maidenhead, 1913 (private collection) and Sutton Courtenay, 1917 (Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin). Summertime is likely to represent one of the three sisters Nancy, Idonea or Blanche La Primaudaye, who hailed from Jersey and who frequented Lavery's studio between 1900 and 1905. Of the three, the youngest, Idonea, was his most frequent model, posing for portraits shown at the New Gallery and the Society of Portrait Painters. He substituted her features for those of the original model in An Equestrian Lady (Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum; see K. McConkey, Sir John Lavery, Edinburgh, 1993, pl. 91), a work begun in 1891 and repainted in 1900, and she accompanied him on at least one of his trips to Tangier where she posed for Study of Idonea La Primaudaye, 1903, and A Windy Day, circa 1903-04 (both private collections). Although we cannot be certain, it is likely that she, rather than her sister, Nancy, posed for the present work. A tall, elegant and rather bohemian young woman Idonea La Primaudaye would, by the time Summertime was painted, have been aged around twenty-six. She was always unwilling in later years to divulge her date of birth. Around 1905 she disappears from Lavery's work. She later took up flower painting, received instruction from Ethel Walker, and spent most of her time in Ireland, where she had a cottage.
Her elder sister, Nancy, to whom Summertime is dedicated, is equally obscure. She is known to have written a somewhat eccentric cookery book entitled Food for the Greedy, which apparently begins with the advice 'Take two pints of cream and throw it out the window'. She died in a nursing home in the 1950s in Kensington.