Lavery spent much of his youth in France, at Grez-sur-Loing, the picturesque village a few miles south of Fontainebleau. For eight years before his arrival in 1883, Grez was continuously popular as an artists’ colony, and after his departure the following year it began to be hailed as a crucible of modern painting, attracting painters from Britain, Ireland, America, Scandinavia and Japan.
In 1885, Lavery found himself the centre of attention among the painters of the Glasgow School. James Guthrie, Arthur Melville and Edward Arthur Walton all came to visit him at Cartbank while he was painting The Tennis Party, (Now in the Aberdeen Art Gallery).
Although the language of Salon naturalism was well understood, Lavery was pushing at the boundaries, and his self-assurance surpassed that of his fellows. His sophisticated sense of spatial orchestration and naturalistic colour, combined with acute observation of the significant moment in the action separated him immediately from the more conventional Bastien-Lepage-derived subject matter of Guthrie and Walton.
The ambition of this major work spilled over into smaller pictures such as with The Goose Girls, where we see the more formulaic aspects of his style and subject matter, acquired in the previous two years at Grez-sur-Loing, are applied in a more confident way. Instinctively Lavery had grasped the central tenets of Bastien-Lepage, that a painting should represent lived experience; it should simulate an encounter and address the material texture and the rendering of details of life.
Lavery’s confidence in assembling the essential properties of the mise-en-scène is what immediately impresses the viewer. Livery employed a ‘broad and systematic’ touch that had been taken up with enthusiasm by the other Glasgow painters, in response to Bastien-Lepage. Indeed it is this that distinguishes Lavery’s works which render subjects presenting us with an authentic set of circumstances that might almost be regarded as a page torn from life.
Lavery made his international name in 1888 when he was asked to commemorate the state visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition. Following this success he became sought after as a society portrait painter, based primarily in London.