SIR JOHN LAVERY, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (IRISH, 1856-1941)
Portrait of Mabel Choate
signed and dated 'J·Lavery/1905' (lower right)
oil on canvas
3658 x 2558 in. (93.2 x 65.2 cm.)
Mabel Choate (1870-1958), the sitter, New York.
Museum of the City of New York, gifted by the above, 14 April 1942.
with Knapp Antiques, New York, by 1959.
Donald Kane (1926-2022), Brooklyn, acquired directly from the above, 1959.
Gifted by the above to the present owner, March 2022.
‘The Lights of London – Fashionable Gossip’, Belfast Telegraph, 10 November 1905, p. 6.
‘Old Masters and Young Scots’, Dundee Courier, 18 November 1905, p. 4
W. Shaw-Sparrow, John Lavery and His Work, London, 1911, p. 186, as Miss Choate.
J. Crichton-Browne, What the Doctor Thought, London, 1930, p. 225.
J. Lavery, The Life of a Painter, Boston, 1940, p. 122.
London, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, 1905, no. 80, as Miss Choate.
New York, Museum of the City of New York, circa 1940s.
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Lot Essay

On the evening of 20 February 1905, at the invitation of John Lavery, the American Ambassador to Great Britain, the Hon Joseph Hodges Choate and his wife attended the reception marking the opening of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers’ Memorial Exhibition for its former President, James McNeill Whistler. Since the society’s brief was to be international, Lavery, its vice-president and prime mover, had enshrined a practice of extending invitations to the important London embassies for its exhibitions.
In Choate’s case, given Whistler’s nationality, it was appropriate to appoint the ambassador to the memorial exhibition’s committee of honour.1 Now approaching the end of their residency, over the previous six years, the Choates had become notable figures in London society, while Lavery, in turn, had recently achieved significant success in the United States, winning the Gold Medal at the first Carnegie International Exhibition in 1896 with a female portrait, and acting as one of its jurors.
A former New York lawyer, the diplomat’s reputation as an eloquent after dinner speaker had gone before him. Nevertheless, when he accepted Lavery’s invitation to the exhibition’s opening banquet, Choate declined to speak at the event.2 Such was the demand from attendees at the dinner, however, that, according to Lavery, ‘he had to rise, and having risen, thrilled everybody by his wonderful oratory’. The following morning, the painter continues, when Miss Mabel Choate arrived for a sitting for the present work, she confessed that she already knew what her father was going to say, because she had read his notes three days before, having retrieved them from the wastepaper basket.3 Her father would only rise to his feet at the table by popular demand.
In the grand sweep of history, the incident, though trivial, sheds light on two important Americans living in London at the turn of the twentieth century. Miss Choate, now in her mid-thirties was a woman of great resource and her sittings for Lavery would result, in the opinion of the writer in The Belfast Telegraph, in ‘a charming picture and an excellent likeness’, when it was exhibited later in the year.4 Having already assisted in the founding of Barnard College, the women’s college at Columbia University, Mabel Choate went on to become a collector of art and antiques, a garden designer and an important preservationist in the South Berkshires.
Attired in a glittering rose pink gown trimmed with white lace, colonial in style, and worn with black buckled shoes, she might almost have stepped from one of Frank Millet’s or Edwin Austin Abbey’s illustrations, were it not for the commanding character that Lavery reveals. Intimations of Velázquez are appropriate. A painter may place her wrists on the arms of the chair; he may suggest that she sits cross-legged; but the regal look of this fiercely independent American woman captured by him, is hers, and hers alone.
We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for preparing this catalogue entry.

1. Choate had attended the opening of the ISSPG’s fourth exhibition on 10 January 1904, when it is likely that the present portrait was actually commissioned.
2. The Ambassador wrote to Lavery accepting the invitation to the memorial banquet on 8 February 1905 (Hyman Kreitman Archive, Tate Britain).
3. John Lavery, The Life of a Painter, 1940, (Cassel), p. 123.
4. Now aware of the fact that the painter came from the city, the Belfast newspaper would carefully note Lavery’s important exhibition-pieces in London and elsewhere.

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