Lot 46: SIR JOHN LAVERY R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A., P.R.P., R.O.I., L.L.B. (1856-1941) STUDY OF ESTHER MCLAREN 46cm x 36cm (18in x 14in)
December 8, 2016
Edinburgh, United KingdomLive Auction
SIR JOHN LAVERY R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A., P.R.P., R.O.I., L.L.B. (1856-1941)
STUDY OF ESTHER MCLAREN
Signed, inscribed and dated ''To Miss Esther McLaren, Dec 31st 1891'', oil on canvas
46cm x 36cm (18in x 14in)
The canvas is unstretched and has several wormholes to trhe bottom quarter. One to shamrock, several to scarf, the remainder to unpainted areas of canvas
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Note: After the completion of The State Visit of Queen Victoria to the International Exhibition, Glasgow, 1888, for Glasgow Corporation, a two year all-consuming project, John Lavery''s monumental canvas was shipped to London and was collecting favourable reviews in the early summer of 1891 at MacLean''s Galleries in Haymarket. Its 254 related oil sketches, an inventory of the great and good of the west of Scotland, were being claimed by sitters when, at the suggestion of fellow artist, William Patrick White, the painter was invited to Glencarron Lodge, in Ross and Cromarty, the rented summer retreat of John McLaren, former Liberal MP and Lord Advocate for Scotland. Here the painter was asked to decorate the Gun Room with landscape and family picnic sketches. From this agreeable interlude the proposal to paint McLaren family portraits emerged and Katherine and Esther, the judge''s two eldest daughters would be his first sitters.
The news of this commission quickly spread. Fellow ''Glasgow Boy'', James Guthrie, in an amusing Christmas watercolour showing Esther dancing while Katherine plays the cello, expressed the hope that they would ''keep steady'' while posing for the struggling painter. Both young women were musical; Esther casting herself in the role of Carmen in Bizet''s popular opera. Clearly, despite the formality of the finished product, the McLaren girls were a challenge - as the present lively sketch reveals.
Normally works of this type provided source material and helped plan a composition, but this does not appear to be the case in this instance. While unrelated to the double portrait, it nevertheless initiated a relationship that developed apace during the next three years in which Esther not only sat for a full face study, but also for a separate full-length, A Lady in Brown, and a much-praised half-length profile portrait, A Lady in Black, shown at the Paris Salon, the Royal Academy, and in the inaugural exhibition at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. With this, she had effectively become Lavery''s muse.
Sittings took place at the McLaren''s house at 46 Moray Place, Edinburgh, where the present sketch is likely to have been painted. Esther''s shamrock brooch may well have been worn in deference to the painter, and while elsewhere, her hair is tightly pinned, here the auburn tresses are given free rein. Knowing her love of Bizet, the present portrait was always referred to as The Gypsy Girl in the McLaren family. Tight definition in the face is indicated in a few swift lines that follow the form, and as she turns, Esther''s pale blue eyes catch the viewer. For the painter, this fleeting moment occasioned a bravura performance, and cemented a friendship that would outlast Judge McLaren''s immediate commission.