Evening, The Bay Of Tunis ( 1919), John Lavery

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Lavery's Harmonious Brushstrokes: A Glimpse into Mount Bou Kornine from Sidi bou Said

In the early 20th century, the renowned artist Sir John Lavery embarked on a captivating artistic journey, capturing the breathtaking twin peaks of Mount Bou Kornine that loomed majestically over the Bay of Tunis. His series of five paintings, all depicting this awe-inspiring natural spectacle, were born from the same vantage point, offering a unique perspective on the mythical landscape.

Local lore, steeped in enchanting tales, added an extra layer of fascination to Lavery's artistic exploration. Legend had it that in ancient times, the twin summits of Mount Bou Kornine were frozen remnants of pilgrims, mesmerized by the beauty unfolding before them. It is evident from Lavery's work that he found himself in harmony with this captivating narrative.

The series, believed to have been crafted on the rooftop of Dar Ennejma Ezzahra, the Moorish palace in Sidi bou Said, showcases Lavery's affinity for the picturesque surroundings. This historical residence had recently undergone renovation at the hands of Lavery's friend, Rodolphe d'Erlanger. Despite his French name, Rodolphe, along with his brother Emile, hailed from a prominent banking dynasty with roots stretching from Germany to Paris and London. Their shared interest in the origins of Arab music and culture led Rodolphe to acquire the house in 1910, transforming it into a hub for his antiquarian pursuits.

In 1919, Lavery found himself a winter haven at Dar Ennejma Ezzahra, a gesture that may well have been a token of gratitude for the support he had provided to the d'Erlanger brothers during the tumultuous Great War. Despite initial concerns about their status as enemy aliens, the brothers' long-standing residency in Britain and their esteemed position in international banking secured their reputation.

Among the series of paintings, one stands out as the epitome of simplicity and subtlety. The artwork, gazing due East from the heights of Sidi bou Said, captures the essence of the tiny fishing port of Hammam-lif below. In contrast to a larger rendition titled "Hammam-Lif, Bay of Tunis, Evening, From Sidi bu Said" (1919), which portrays the bustling harbor with fishermen's abodes, the present example focuses on the fading golden light and delicate touches of pink afterglow dancing on the sea's surface.

In this moment, it becomes evident that Lavery's artistic vision was reminiscent of James McNeill Whistler's seascapes. Drawing from his experiences as Vice-President of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers, Lavery sought "arrangement" and "harmony" in his work – qualities vividly portrayed in "Evening, Bay of Tunis." These subtleties must have resonated deeply with his Orientalist host, Rodolphe d'Erlanger, as the artist skillfully blended the beauty of nature with the musicality of visual composition.

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