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John Lavery - A Rally

Sir John Lavery, A Rally, 1885

Sir John Lavery, A Rally, 1885

In this dynamic composition, Lavery depicts Alexander MacBride and his sister Elizabeth mid tennis match in the garden of their Cartbank home in Glasgow. It is one of at least seven pictures painted in the summer of 1885 in Cartbank, where Lavery, Guthrie, Melville and Walton would often meet to play tennis with their friends. It was painted from memory, Lavery inspired by the example of the French Naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage. At this time, he recalled: ‘I became obsessed by figures in movement’.

Lavery enhances the visual theatre by focusing on the two players from the vantage point of the end of the court, particularly concentrating on the elegant figure of Elizabeth twisting and lunging for the ball. It recalls the provocative portraits of American artist and aesthete James McNeill Whistler, a mentor for the Glasgow Boys, who painted figures from the back to take attention away from the face and traditional ideas about representation, instead emphasising the beauty of colour, line and form. Lavery’s inclusion of the stylish figure with a Japanese paper parasol, who observes the game, provides a further visual link to Whistler, who looked to Japan for inspiration. Indeed, the tennis court railings recall the grid-like backgrounds of Whistler’s ‘Six Projects’, a decorative mural scheme for the Liverpool shipping magnate Frederick Leyland.

However, Lavery’s subject is not merely aesthetic beauty but modernity. Around 1885, inspired by new middle-class Glasgow patrons, Lavery began tackling more urban, modern life themes. Tennis was a newly popular leisure pursuit among cultured and fashionable women, along with croquet, rowing and cycling, controversially providing the opportunity for women to take part in sports alongside men. Unusually this finished watercolour was worked up from oil sketches, reversing normal artistic practice of sketches being developed into full-scale oils.

Presented by Sir John Lavery in 1935.

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