Early Tennis Painting Goes On Public Display for the First Time
The Barber Institute of Fine
One of the most vivid and compelling early images of the game of
lawn tennis is now on display at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts,
marking the first time Played! by Sir John Lavery has been
exhibited to the general public.
The oil painting from 1885 forms part of the University of
Birmingham-based gallery's hugely successful exhibition,
Court on Canvas:
Tennis in Art, which has been seen by over 14,000
visitors since opening in May 2011.
Above (left to right): Sir John Lavery - Played!, 1885.
Private Collection. Photo courtesy of Christies. Sir John Lavery -
A Rally, 1885. Glasgow Life/Glasgow Museums; Both by
courtesy of Felix Rosenstiel's Widow and Son Ltd., London on behalf
of the Estate of Sir John Lavery. James Watson - Response to
Sir John Lavery - 'A Rally' (Detail), 2011.
Lavery's Played! is a dramatic study of a young woman
lunging forward, despite cumbersome clothing, to return the serve
of her male opponent. In these early days, women's tennis was often
little more than a form of under-arm 'pat-ball' due to the
restrictions imposed by long skirts, bustles and tight-lacing.
Women were not expected to be so athletic as Lavery's heroine.
Painted before the days of photography using celluloid film, Lavery
captures her movement with great skill.
The career of Sir John Lavery was concurrent with the rapid
spread of lawn tennis at the end of the 19th century. The
Tennis Party, arguably his most ambitious canvas, can be seen
as part of the Court on Canvas exhibition, as well as
A Rally, a later, watercolour version of Played!.
The sketch takes pride of place next to A Rally in the
exhibition - the first time the oil and watercolour versions have
ever been hung together.
As well as Played!, visitors can also see a
contemporary tennis image by student photographer James Watson from
Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), part of Birmingham
City University. He has responded to the scene featured in
Played! and A Rally, giving the theme a modern
twist - the young woman in his photograph is now dressed in a short
dress and stilettos. James Watson's work will form part of
Function II (13 October 2011 - 8 January), the Barber's
photographic competition, now in its second year. Undergraduate
students from BIAD's degree in Visual Communication have found
inspiration in paintings on display at the Barber and James
Watson's photograph offers a sneak preview into this
The game of lawn tennis was pioneered barely a mile away from
the Barber at 8 Ampton Road in Edgbaston by Major Harry Gem and his
friend, Jean Batista Augurio Perera, in 1859. As well as Lavery,
the game's popularity has helped it attract a diverse roll-call of
artists including Spencer Gore, LS
Lowry, Stanley Spencer, Eric
Ravilious, Winnie-the-Pooh illustrator EH
Shepard, David Hockney and Tom
Court on Canvas includes a wide variety of delightful
paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, photography and mixed-media
works dating from the 1870s through to the 21st century. These
works also depict the romantic and social implications of the
sport, from tennis parties in stately homes to matches on municipal
public courts in urban centres.
This groundbreaking exhibition - the first ever ever to explore
the subject of lawn tennis in art - not only represents tennis
during the last 150 years, but also offers an outstanding overview
of the varying artistic trends during that time. This exhibition is
complimented by the publication Court on Canvas: Tennis in
Court on Canvas: Tennis in Art is accompanied by a
satellite show, A Gem of a Game: The Roots
of Lawn Tennis in the West Midlands, which
traces the game's origins and many connections with the Birmingham
area. Objects on display include Harry Gem's original set of rules,
Maud Watson's Wimbledon Flower Basket Trophy and the Athena 'Tennis
Girl' poster, which was photographed on the University of
Robert Wenley, Head of Collections and Learning at the Barber
said: 'We are thrilled to be the first gallery to display
Played! to the public in an exhibition most fitting for
the painting. We did want it to be in the original line-up for the
exhibition, but it was due to go on sale at Christie's, London and
in fact was sold on the night we had the private view for Court
on Canvas. Therefore, it was very exciting when the new owners
agreed to lend the oil sketch as a late addition to the show.
'Lavery's interest in tennis continued throughout his long
career, with him depicting lawn tennis during visits to Paisley,
London and as far afield as Palm Beach and Cannes. However, none of
these later works can match the spontaneity and originality of
Played! is on display in the Barber from Tuesday 9
August until January 2012. Court on Canvas: Tennis in Art
runs until 18 September and a Gem of a Game: The Roots of Lawn
Tennis in the West Midlands closes on 1 September. Admission
to both exhibitions and the permanent collection is