Summary

This is one of a series of pictures of jockeys and racegoers that Lavery produced during the early 1920s. Having established a reputation as a society artist and a painter of portrait interiors, he was looking for ways in which to develop his approach to group portraiture, while retaining some element of informality. A keen horseman, Lavery had sketched his first racing scenes at Newmarket in 1913, and in 1919 he painted The Derby in the Rain (ex Fine Art Society). In 1923 he produced a similar picture of the Ascot races in a downpour, which resulted in his spending two weeks in bed. In general, however, in these later works, instead of focusing on the racetrack, Lavery sketched in the warmth and relative comfort of the dressing rooms and weighing rooms at Ascot, Epsom and Hurst Park. The shed-like buildings were not particularly inspiring, but
the jockeys in their caps and silks provided an excellent opportunity to inject colour and variety into an existing interior scene.

This view of The Jockeys' Dressing Room at Ascot was shown at the Royal Academy in 1924. The rows of benches form a series of diagonals, leading the eye towards the back of the room where the jockeys are being weighed in. On the left of the picture one man is polishing boots and another appears to be sewing. The jockey in blue silks and yellow cap, standing in the foreground of the picture provides the most vivid colour note, and this is offset by bold touches of yellow throughout the composition. Another bold primary colour is provided by the red cap of the central jockey seated second from the front, and which again draws attention to the weighing scales.

Developing the theme of this picture, the following year Lavery painted the weighing room at Hurst Park from a closer viewpoint, and incorporating thirteen of the most famous jockeys of the day. (This painting is in a private collection, and the preparatory sketch is in the Ulster Museum in Belfast.) Lavery apparently persuaded the jockey, a man called Donoghue, that if he posed in the scales he would win the race (possibly the Lincoln Handicap). When Lavery's prophecy came true, all the other jockeys thereafter would touch the artist's shoulder for good luck before going out to race.

Further reading:
Kenneth McConkey, Sir John Lavery, Edinburgh 1993, pp.175-7, reproduced p.175.

Frances Fowle
October 2000