'Westerdunes, the home of Sir Patrick Ford, with its splendid views of the golf course and coastline at North Berwick was one of the favourite haunts of Sir John and Lady Lavery between 1919 and 1924. It provided Lavery with subjects for many landscapes and garden scenes. The coastal views, Dunbar from Tyninghame, (Sotheby's, 13 November 1985, lot 17), Rain in the Distance, North Berwick, (Christie's, 12 March 1993, lot 65), the various studies of the Japanese Garden at Westerdunes and the pictures of Ardilea, the near-by house of Lavery's friend, the painter Patrick William Adam, demonstrate the range of his work during what were often little more than long week-ends.
The central core of the North Berwick group is a series of works representing the golf course. Nine pictures, executed on standard 25 by 30 inch canvases and canvas-boards have been identified out of a total of around fifteen. Lord Duveen presented one of these to the Tate Gallery in 1922 (3688) as its second work by the painter. The others range from The Ladies' Links, North Berwick, circa 1920 (Phillips, 10 March 1992, lot 46) which look back along the coast to the town of North Berwick, both pictures being securely datable because they appeared in the artist's Alpine Club exhibition of 1921. One further painting from this exhibition, The Putting Course, North Berwick, (no.6) has not been traced. All of the remaining works depict views looking westwards incorporating the offshore island of Fidra, one of a number which mark the mouth of the Firth of Forth. It is clear from at least four of these that Lavery experimented with a variety of angles and viewpoints which alter the positions of the dunes and bunkers in the foreground. Thus The Golf Links, North Berwick, 1919 (Christie's, New York, 19 February 1992, lot 172) and the related unsigned sketch (Phillips, 2 June 1992, lot 114) may have been painted from an upper storey at Westerdunes since they have higher horizons than the present picture. The Golf Course, North Berwick, (Sotheby's, 12 November 1986, lot 56) describes the Mise-en-scne of the present canvas, without figures.
Making a young woman golfer the focal point of a group of players gives space and depth to the composition. Formerly, on the basis of an erroneous saleroom reference, the picture was entitled Lady Astor playing Golf at North Berwick (see K. McConkey, Sir John Lavery, Edinburgh, 1993, p.146). In its previous title therefore, the present work referred to a highly skilled golfer, and although Lady Astor was a plausible model, none of the exhibited pictures of the period confirmed the identification. The recent removal of an unnecessary backing canvas, has however, cleared the confusion and revealed the true title of the picture. The verso inscription in the artist's hand, names the golfer as Alice Trudeau, Lavery's step-daughter, and the spectators as her mother, Hazel Lavery, Asquith, and Sir Patrick and Lady Ford.
The Golf Links, North Berwick was clearly a successful visual scheme since the painter enlarged it as the most imposing canvas in the series, known as Playing Golf at North Berwick (Sotheby's, 26 November 1997, lot 21) and sold to Lavery's Glasgow patron, Nicol Paton Brown. As noted elsewhere, in both this and the larger version, the sky formation, with its dramatic clouds and rays of sunshine falling unevenly over the landscape, illuminates the distant dunes by the shore line. Completing her swing, Alice looks in the direction of the sun which is already moving towards the west - indicating that this is an afternoon game. Lavery has carefully considered the relative positions of the figures to give emphasis to the action. Unlike the older female golfers, the painter's step-daughter is wearing a currently fashionable knee-length skirt or knickerbockers, with a long 'jumper' or cardigan, made fashionable by Lady Astor. Standing behind her, Sir Patrick Ford is also dressed appropriately in knickerbockers, the forerunners of the fuller plus-fours which became fashionable for golfers later in the decade.
Ladies' golf had of course been popular since the late nineteenth century. Mary Hezlet writing on 'Golf from a Woman's Point of View' in The Lady's Realm in 1904 (Vol. 16, pp.483-488) considered it 'the best game for women' because it had 'beneficial effects on mind and body'. As with lawn tennis and other games which became associated with the 'New Woman' phenomenon, it was the occasion when, as Hezlet noted 'class distinctions are dropped'.
Lavery's own efforts at playing the game were not distinguished. He records that he '... once told a Scottish caddie [probably at North Berwick] that I was not much of a golfer and he agreed with me. To the same confession an Irish caddie replied, 'Ah, sir, there are very few men can play like you' (The Life of a Painter, 1940, p.183).
The painter's affection for this area of southern Scotland had been renewed recently as a result of his activities as a War Artist attached to the Royal Navy. He had visited Granton naval base in 1918 and painted scenes of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth, in preparation for his ceremonial canvas of the surrender of the German Navy (Imperial War Museum, London). It is likely on these visits that he revisited Sir Patrick Ford, MP, Solicitor General for Scotland, and a noted connoisseur. In addition to patronizing Patrick William Adam, Ford was a particular friend of Francis Campbell Boileau (Bunty) Cadell and possessed an extensive collection of pictures by the Scottish Colourists, some of which hung at Westerdunes. The house overlooked the ninth hole of one of the oldest Scottish courses, founded in 1836. Ford's patronage of artists earned him honorary memebership of the Royal Scottish Academy. Ford was discriminating in his Laverys. He owned important Moroccan and Swiss scenes and commissioned family portraits from the artist. It was he and Lord Birkenhead who arranged for Lavery to be asked to paint commemorative canvases of the moving of the Irish Treaty in the Houses of Lords and Commons. In his Foreword to the catalogue of the Lavery exhibition at the Victoria Art Galleries at Dundee in 1935, he described Lavery as the 'outstanding figure in the Glasgow School', someone who was never confined to any one approach, 'his experience and his reputation are world-wide ... he tackles every subject from his own point of view'. Undoubtedly, Ford's authority derived from his having witnessed Lavery at work on canvases like The Golf Links, North Berwick'.
(Kenneth McConkey, private correspondence, 1999).