Following his trip to Tangier in 1892 Lavery returned to Britain overland through Spain in the company of Alexander Mann. He worked in Seville for a three week period at the end of April and by the second week of May had moved on to Madrid. In the former he painted a number of small canvas-boards of bullfights and studies of workers in the large cigarette factory, while in the latter, he spent his days copying the work of Velazquez in the Prado Museum.1 Such was his fascination for Spain that he repeated at least part of his tour the following year, returning to the Prado for a further series of sessions in front of the master.2
The present work, a rediscovery, indicates that Lavery also visited one of the public exhibitions of flamenco. He would of course have been familiar with John Singer Sargent's El Jaleo, 1882 (Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum, Boston), the definitive treatment of the theme, and more recently he would have seen La Carmencita, 1890 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), the swaggering full-length portrait of the celebrated Spanish dancer.3 Carmencita was by this time world-renowned for having lifted the gipsy dances of southern Spain into the realm of high drama, aided to some extent by the enormous popularity of Bizet's Carmen. William Rothenstein, who visited Seville in 1894 confirms this, by noting that he deliberately sought out small local taverns in which chulas, the wives of bull-fighters, would dance in 'shabby old gowns'.4
What had, up to the 1870s been a spontaneous performance in wayside hostelries, was therefore rapidly evolving into musical theatre with its own celebrity dancers, largely for the benefit of tourists. Lavery's little sketch of The Spanish Dancer graphically records this phenomenon, showing a small conventional proscenium with an orchestra pit, and dancers and guitarists on stage. All are viewed from a balcony, or front circle. Lavery's palette recalls the music hall interiors of Walter Sickert, which he would probably have seen at the New English Art Club exhibitions. The execution - as in the bullfight sketches - is swift and confident, even though the lighting conditions in the darkened theatre are likely to have been poor. Nevertheless it should be recognized that visiting the more theatrical establishments to witness such spectacles was similar to attending the Moulin Rouge. Flamenco was, as Arthur Symons observed, a close relative of quadrille naturaliste or chahut, and a cousin of the can-can.5
1 Mann's letters to his wife, which mention the bullfight and cigarette factory pictures, do not refer to the present work. Mann may not have gone with Lavery to Madrid, but he also mentions Lavery's intention to return to Seville in the following year. Three small bullfight pictures are known and at least two studies of cigarette workers are known (all private collections).
2 For reference to Lavery's copying at the Prado see R.A.M. Stevenson, Velazquez, 1895 (reprinted, D. Sutton and T. Crombie, (eds.), London, 1962), p. 136. Lavery's copies appear not to have survived.
3 For further reference see Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, Sargent, Portraits of the Nineties, Yale, 2002, pp. 19-24.
4 William Rothenstein, Men and Memories, 1931, Volume 1, p. 223.
5 Arthur Symons, 'A Spanish Music-Hall', Cities, and Sea-Coasts and Islands, 1918 (originally published 1892, W. Collins and Sons), pp. 155-6.
We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for providing the catalogue entry for lots 93-103.