After the spread of railways throughout Europe in the 1870s and onwards, travel became more affordable.
In the 1880s artists would travel from one small town to small town, painting the rural scenes of European countryside.
With the invention of the pochade paint box, wherein an artist could store his paints, works and an easel and still carry all of his materials under one arm, painting outdoors “en plein air” became a popular technique.
This caricature sketch of Sir John Lavery by the New Zealand born cartoonist, David Low, shows Lavery with his pochade paint box which allowed him to paint anywhere, anytime.
Both Lavery and Osborne benefited from the new travel by rail and travelled extensively throughout their lives.
Lavery travelled first to study in Paris, then to the artists colony in Grez-sur-Loing in Brittany before returning to Scotland. Over his lifetime he also visited Morocco, where he had a house and the United States as well as living for long periods in both London and Ireland.
Osborne initially travelled from Dublin to study in Antwerp, Belgium before also cutting his teeth at an artist’s colony in Brittany. He worked predominantly in Suffolk,England and his home country of Ireland, but made visits to Spain, Holland and Paris, and may have gone further afield if life had not brought him back to Ireland.
This Osborne work was completed while in Suffolk, England, and was painted “en plein air” probably using a pochade box or similar. Painting outdoors allowed Osborne to capture the exact moment the light cast the boy into “contre jour” or “against daylight”.
Sketching was an important result of travel. Both Lavery and Osborne were taught how to initially sketch an outdoor scene, committing as much detail to a page as quickly as possible before later turning that sketch into a finished work in the studio.
Sketching was integral to the plein-air process. Painting en plein-air requires an artist to paint quickly, making use of natural light before it changed.
Artist’s would often hurriedly sketch a scene before the light was ‘lost’, intending to later refine the work in studio. The sketches functioned as visual reminders to complete final paintings.
However, as with the common practice of their Impressionist contemporaries, the sketches of Lavery and Osborne often became the finished product.
The sketches can be more spontaneous and atmospheric than “finished” paintings. They allow the quick rendition of the moment, recording before it vanishes.
Sketch, Connemara is an excellent example of Walter Osborne’s skill at sketching ordinary moments, in this case a fisherman and his boat in Connemara. Completed during one of Osborne’s many explorations of rural areas within Ireland, the sketch was never refined into a more detailed work but was gifted to his friend Miss. Elizabeth Webb in 1892.
One of Walter Osborne’s best known paintings is Dublin Streets: a Vendor of Books 1889, to be seen in the National Gallery of Ireland’s permanent collection. The work is an honest, interesting portrayal of life for the poor in Dublin at the end of the 19th Century. This is Osborne’s initial sketch of the scene, where he attempts to capture as much detail of the people in the foreground before painting in the details of the bridge, the river Liffey, the surrounding buildings and the figures in the background, back in the studio.
LAVERY AND MOROCCO
For Lavery, North Africa became a refuge and an escape from the pressures of work and society life.
Visiting after completing his commission of the Queen’s visit to the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1891, Lavery fell in love with Tangier, the “White City” and purchased a house on the outskirts called ‘Dar-el-Midfah’ (The House of the Canon) in 1903.
At the time North Africa was considered an exotic and foreign destination, visited by artists and explorers on artistic pilgrimages.
For the Lavery family it became their winter holiday home for almost twenty years.
Sir Reginald Lister was British envoy and Minister to the Ambassador of Morocco from 1908-1912 where he made the acquaintance of Sir John Lavery. This oil sketch of the View from Sir Reginald Lister’s House, Tetuan, Morocco 1912 was most likely painted by Lavery on one of his many social visits Sir Reginald’s home. Lister features in Lavery’s notable interior portrait from Tangier, The Greyhound 1910 conversing with Lavery’s daughter Eileen, alongside the Lavery’s faithful greyhound Rodney Stone.
The vibrant colours of the ocean, the culture and the life of the people of Tangier posed their own particular challenges.
Lavery spent countless hours painting the ocean , attending local markets and visiting influential Moroccans to capture the customs and traditions of Tangier onto canvas.
He painted a Moorish dance of which Habiba (at the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork) is one of the studies.
He continued to visit with Hazel, Alice, Eileen and often Mary Auras, their companion and offtime model for Lavery. His final stay in Morocco was in 1920, but it continued to cast a spell over him for the rest of his life, and the artworks he completed there opened up an extraordinary world for his patrons.
This painting is remarkable for the framing with the large expanse of blue sea, and the punctuation of the foreground with the figures with the brightness of Alice’s hat and jacket against the blue of the sea. The tranquil scene contradicts a time in Morocco’s history where the the Agadir crisis escalated in April 1911 the same year this was painted.
This vantage point on the cliffs, overlooking the beach and the city of Tangier was a favourite of Lavery’s. He painted it many times (see here). The focus of this work is the sharp, multi-tiered city of Tangier, known as the “White City”, the bright, eye catching colours of the North African city enraptured Lavery for many years.
OSBORNE AND SPAIN
Osborne travelled extensively through the south of England during the 1880s and early 1890s, but in 1895 he travelled to Spain with his friend Sir Walter Armstrong, who had recently been appointed Director of the National Gallery of Ireland.
They went by train through Paris, Luxembourg, Bordeaux, and then to Madrid. Osborne sketched extensively, filling notebooks with sketches of people, building facades and the works of other artists he saw in galleries.
This trip especially influenced Osborne in the freedom of technique that his later paintings illustrate, and the limited colour palette of his late portraits. Osborne was most influenced by the works of Diego Velazquez and Francisco Goya.
Velazquez was the leading artist of the court of King Philip IV of Spain, noted for his portraiture and by bold brushwork that produced an illusion of form only when viewed at a distance. Goya painted in the Spanish romantic style, with an emphasis on emotion and individualism that appealed to Osborne’s portraiture style.
The painting Portrait of Violet Stockley with Rabbit illustrates how travel helped the development of the painter’s artistic style. There are elements of the sombre, and the tone of light and dark is as far from Impressionism here as anywhere. Despite the popularity of the style at the time. The painting also contains the Spanish influences on Osborne while still showing the obvious affection he had for Violet, his niece and the inspiration for so many of his paintings.
“I see signs of French Artists admitting that good art is done in England as well as in Paris and I believe it is only a matter of time when French students will go to London to be taught and possibly Dublin”
Walter Osborne in correspondence to Sarah Purser on his trip to Spain
(J.Sheehy & The National Gallery of Ireland, Walter Osborne, p. 37. 1983)
For both Lavery and Osborne, travelling abroad was significant in their development as artists, although they were not extraordinary in their ability to travel, they were certainly in a privileged position.
‘The Grand Tour’ and the concept of travelling for pleasure was a recent development and in the late 19th Century it was the educated classes who were travelling to Europe and beyond for leisure.
Both artists had the means to travel, Osborne due to his family background could afford to be educated in the Belgian Ateliers, Lavery by contrast was lucky enough to receive an insurance payout which funded his education at the Académie Julien in Paris.
Years later they would both be earning significant incomes as artist’s, once again affording them the luxury of travel across Europe, and for Lavery, the United States.
In this work Hazel is seen reclining in the shade of Florida’s omnipresent palm trees, oblivious to the tennis game behind her. The Lavery’s travelled to Florida on occasions, usually spending a couple of weeks relaxing after big exhibitions. In 1936, after the death of Hazel and his unsuccessful trip to Hollywood Lavery once again travelled to Florida to convalesce.