Immediately after his arrival in Tangier in 1891, Lavery ascended to the roof of his hotel to paint views of the city. Overlooking Andalusia and the Rock of Gibraltar, Tangier was a captivating presence - one to which the painter must return. Thereafter, the city gave Lavery an inexhaustible supply of motifs and in the early years of the new century, when he was a busy portrait painter with an international clientele, it helped to re-sensitise an eye made dull by the rituals of the London studio. Set against the opals and azures of the Straits, gleaming in the mid-day sun, it was dubbed by the painter's friend, the Scottish adventurer Laird of Gartmore, R.B. Cunninghame Graham, as 'the White City'. And Lavery's imposing panoramic depiction of 1893, of the old city, its buildings and beach, bears this title (private collection).
Tourists to North Africa were also drawn by curiosity for the Arab way of life. Lavery was initially keen to validate the experiences of earlier artists who painted hareems and souks, neither of which, in real life, had quite the glitter of those confected in Paris ateliers by painters like Gèrôme. Numerous travellers' tales record the fact that the inhabitants of the area were notoriously furtive, that they would not be caught in the mid-day sun and that they were nervous about being subjected to the western painter's gaze. Painters quickly realized that the flat roofs of Tangier were places where the city's Moorish inhabitants might be encountered, lounging, occasionally dancing or playing the gimbri at sundown. When he returned on subsequent visits, Lavery refined this subject matter to the point where in Evening, Tangier, 1907, (Birmingham City Art Gallery), we are given the back view of a single Moorish girl leaning on the parapet overlooking the majestic sweep of the North African coast. Described as 'wholly successful' by a reviewer in The Studio, this work has been seen as a summing up, not only of Lavery's previous treatments, but also as his reprise of a favourite theme of Benjamin-Constant, Frederick Arthur Bridgman, John Singer Sargent and many others. Orientalist reverie, the exotic Arab woman gazing into the immensity, exerted a peculiar fascination for American and European travellers.
Lavery returned to this motif in 1920 when he and Hazel, on an extensive tour of the North African coast, stayed at Tangier. On this occasion he witnessed and recorded the ceremonial lowering of the flag on the German Legation - Tangier was no longer a nest of European spies and political intrigue. He also painted vivid sketches of the funeral cortège of 'Kaid' Maclean, a local hero of earlier years when the city was threatened by the brigand, El Raisuli. However old motifs also drew him back to the rooftops and high places of the city and he was impressed even more than in previous years by the intense colour of the sunlit seascape of the Straits. Reworking the Arab woman, gazing out to sea, he may have thought about the brilliant colour and suave expressionism of younger painters like Van Dongen and Matisse who had recently tackled Moroccan subjects in a modernist vein. Nevertheless this does not account for the conviction which informs the strong contrasts and heightened impasto of the present canvas. Lavery was painting a favourite subject for the last time.
We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for providing the catalogue entry for lots 51-53.