Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Convoy, North Sea

John Lavery (1856-1941)
A Convoy, North Sea
Imperial War Museum, London

Oil On Canvas
68 3/4 Inches By 76 3/4 Inches


I encountered this fine painting when my brother and I explored, exhaustively, the World War I rooms at London’s Imperial War Museum in 2005. The painting was displayed, not in the many art galleries located on upper floors of The Imperial War Museum, but near the end of the sweep of galleries devoted to The Great War.

The World War I rooms are situated in the lowest level of the Imperial War Museum (the basement in all but name), and occupy approximately one-half of that enormous space. Cramped, poorly-designed, poorly-lighted and poorly-ventilated, the World War I galleries required almost a full day for my brother and me to view to our satisfaction.

We were riveted from first exhibition room to last, despite the fact that we had to exit the building every hour or so to breathe fresh air. Happily, there is an employee entrance/exit at the rear of the Imperial War Museum basement which my brother and I were able to use whenever the air became too stifling—and none of the IWM employees seemed to mind that my brother and I freely used that entrance/exit as our own once we had gained proper admittance to the museum through the visitor entrance. (We also took advantage of the private entrance/exit on another day, when we toured exhaustively the World War II rooms, also located in the IWM basement and also poorly-ventilated.)

John Lavery, a former student of Jules Bastien-Lepage, was a distinguished painter, renowned for his grasp of portraiture as well as for his plein air works. Lavery was named an Official War Artist by the British Government in 1917, and was assigned to The Royal Navy.

This particular painting, portraying an airship escorting and protecting a British convoy off the coast of Norway, serves, in part, as documentary: its depiction of the scene is accurate and detailed, allowing the viewer to witness the panorama almost as if he had been present on the airship.

The sensation of height is most successfully achieved. That particular accomplishment is, perhaps, the most admirable quality of Lavery’s painting.

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