Anna Pavlova as The Swan by the Irish artist Sir John Lavery dates from 1911 and will come up at Christie’s evening sale of Modern British and Irish art in London on June 25. The appearance of Russian dancers at the Palace Theatre of Varieties in April 1910 caught London audiences unawares. In a programme that included Lily Hayes, the comedienne, Selbo, the club juggler, the Palace Girls and the performance in ‘Kinemacolor’ of the one-reeler, ‘Paris, the Gay City’, the headline act was the first English performance of the Imperial Russian Ballet, starring Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Mordkin, ‘Russia’s acknowledged greatest dancers’. At this point, Pavlova was leaving Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes to work as a solo performer and later that year, she would launch her own company. The thirty-five minute programme consisted of a series of short divertissements, dances drawn from her most famous ballets that demonstrated the range and depth of Pavlova’s abilities. When she danced the Autumn Bacchanal from Pepita’s The Seasons for instance, it was not simply, according to Michel Fokine, ‘Pavlova in a gay mood, it was gaiety itself’. Ballet fever gripped the capital, and the shrewd Palace Theatre entrepreneurs booked her for the Royal Opera House Covent Garden for 1911.
It was the anticipation of this event that brought Pavlova to John Lavery’s studio at 5 Cromwell Place, South Kensington. After the completion of her début season, he received a commission to paint her portrait for reproduction in colour as a supplement to the Illustrated London News. The editor’s choice was auspicious. It underlined the pre-eminence of a painter who had been extensively honoured throughout Europe and the United States with major canvases in national collections. Furthermore, Lavery had been selected that year to represent Great Britain in the Venice Biennale, with a solo exhibition of 53 works. His study for the portrait is estimated at £70,000-100,000.
UPDATE: THE PAINTING SOLD FOR £158,500