Augustus John 1878-1961
Mont St. Victoire: Dorelia Sewing 1910
Oil on panel 9 ¼ x 13 inches (23.2 x 33 cm)
Viscount Cowdray; Private Collection.
Augustus John first travelled to the lagoon of L'Étang de Berre in 1910. He was so enchanted with the region between Marseilles and Arles that he chose to rent a house, Villa Ste. Anne, in the small fishing village of Martigues nestled on the banks of L'Étang. The family visited frequently until 1928. For John the beauty of the translucent sunlight against the shimmering water and pale hills beyond inspired him to embark upon a series of plein air oils made on panel. 'After a necessary interval spent in observation and experiment', John wrote, 'I attuned my eye at last to the marvellous light of this region, and a series of panels attest, I think, to the beneficial effect of it upon my palette' (Augustus John, Chiaroscuro, London 1952, p. 107).
The resulting body of work, forty-eight small oil panels of Provençal studies of which at least three depicted L'Étang de Berre, was exhibited in London in November-December 1910. In his book on the artist, Michael Holroyd describes how 'The oil sketches at the Chenil Gallery revealed, for the first time, a gift for colour. The pale hills of Provence with their olives and pines and their elusive skies, the summer light across the Étang mysteriously moving with sun and shade, seemed to have brought Augustus into a more vivid contact with nature' (Michael Holroyd, Augustus John, London 1996, p.339).
Here Dorelia sits sewing in the sunlight on the cliffs above the bay, with Mont St Victoire beyond. This painting originally belonged to Viscount Cowdray, one of Augustus John's most important patrons.