John Lavery (Irish, 1856-1941)
On the Bridge at Grez, 1884
Oil on canvas, 49 x 100.5 cm
Signed: lower right: John Lavery 1884
Heritage Gift, Lochlann and Brenda Quinn, 2008
While Grez-sur-Loing, a village situated in the south of Fontainebleau, boasted numerous pretty buildings, narrow streets, orchards and jetties, the old stone bridge was its dominant landmark, and a subject to which artists returned repeatedly in the second half of the nineteenth century. Lavery himself remarked that the unusual artists in Grez were those who did not represent the bridge.
On the Bridge at Grez is, however, an unusual picture in its own right, as it is a view on the bridge, rather than of it from one of the various vantage points along the river bank. Lavery painted several of the latter, including The Bridge at Grez (Private Collection) and Under the Cherry Tree (Ulster Museum, Belfast).
This picture's even tonality and subdued palette, and the distinctive 'square-brush' technique are typical of the style, often referred to as Rustic Naturalism, which was developed by the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884) and became popular throughout Europe, North America and as far away as Japan in the last decades of the century. The calm, relaxed atmosphere that prevails in this painting is indicative of this Naturalist sensibility and consistent with the impressions recorded in prose by numerous artists and writers resident in Grez.
Lavery's painting also serves as an invaluable record of an Irish presence in Grez, as the young man leaning casually on the wall, with his artist's accoutrements by his side, is almost certainly Carlow-born Frank O'Meara (1853-1888), an artist greatly admired by Lavery and a key member of the artistic community in the village. His apparent indolence epitomises the easy pace of life in Grez, while the manner in which he observes the women who linger in conversation further down the bridge typifies visiting artists' keen appetite for new subjects.