Catalogue entry

T01989 THE SLAVE MARKET 1912–13

Not inscribed
Gouache, watercolours and pencil on canvas, 24×36 (61×91.4)
Purchased from Mrs Grace Lovat Fraser (Grant-in-Aid) 1975
Exh: Informal Exhibition of Paintings by Lovat Fraser, 45 Roland Gardens, London SW7, February 1913 (no catalogue traced); Claud Lovat Fraser, Victoria and Albert Museum, September–December 1969 (19, repr.)
Lit: Haldane MacFall, The Book of Lovat, London, 1923; Malcolm Easton, ‘Three Lovat Fraser Sketchbooks’, Appendix to catalogue of Claud Lovat Fraser exhibition, University of Hull, October–November 1968; Grace Lovat Fraser, Introduction to the catalogue of the 1969 Victoria and Albert Museum Lovat Fraser exhibition

Although Lovat Fraser's active involvement with the stage did not begin until 1919 (when his designs were used in a production of Pergolesi's operetta La Padrona), his interest in the theatre started much earlier in his career. The first theatrically-inspired paintings and designs for sets and costumes date from 1912, in which year he met Bakst and became closely associated with Edward Gordon Craig. The latter's influence is apparent in this gouache.

According to the artist's widow, ‘The Slave Market’ was one of a number of purely imaginary theatrical scenes Fraser exhibited (together with other stage designs) at his first one-man show and was the only work of this type left unsold when it finished. It represents ‘the arrival at a Moslem fort of a shipwrecked Papal Legate and his suite, who are seen as they pass a street slave market’. (Grace Lovat Fraser, op.cit, p.7).

While orientalism was very much in the air in London in 1912 (as a result, perhaps, of such Ballets Russes productions as Scheherezade), Fraser's choice of theme is probably connected with his work during much of 1912 and early 1913 on Haldane MacFall's ‘eastern’ play The Three Students. Designs for this were included in the Roland Gardens exhibition and one, a ‘Saracen's Head’, was used for the poster advertising it. Shortly before the exhibition opened Fraser had been introduced to Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree who at that time planned to put on The Three Students at Her Majesty's Theatre, and it was doubtless in the hope of this and other theatrical commissions that Fraser wrote urging MacFall to bring Tree to his show.

‘The Slave Market’ is very similar in conception and treatment to Fraser's contemporary designs for ‘King Lear’ (which, like those for The Three Students were never actually realized). Malcolm Easton (op.cit) has also drawn attention to the existence of several drawings in Fraser's sketchbooks of 1913 of a similar compositional type, which he calls ‘pillar and crowd drawings’. In general these are horizontal in format, brightly coloured, and feature a milling crowd, the composition being stabilized by tall verticals rising high overhead. A wide variety of subjects serve as pretexts for such compositions in the sketchbooks.

Liberty and Co. recently (1974) adapted ‘The Slave Market’, with minor modifications, as a textile. Examples of this (a silk chiffon) are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978