John Lavery  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

Sir John Lavery (20 March, 185610 January, 1941) was an Irish painter best known for his portraits.

Belfast-born John Lavery attended the Haldane Academy in Glasgow, Scotland, in the 1870s and the Académie Julian in Paris in the early 1880s. He returned to Glasgow and was associated with the "Glasgow School". In 1888 he was commissioned to paint the state visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition. This launched his career as a society painter and he moved to London soon after. In London he became friendly with James McNeill Whistler and was clearly influenced by him.

Like William Orpen, Lavery was appointed an official artist in the First World War. Ill-health, however, prevented him from travelling to the Western Front. A serious car crash during a Zeppelin bombing raid also kept him from fulfilling this role as war artist. He remained in Britain and mostly painted boats, planes and airships. During the war years he was a close friend of the Asquith family and spent time with them at their Sutton Courtenay Thames-side residence, painting their portraits and idyllic pictures like Summer on the River (Hugh Lane Gallery).

After the war he was knighted and in 1921 he was elected to the Royal Academy. During this time, he and his wife both became interested in their Irish heritage and were tangentially involved in both the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War: they gave the use of their London home to the Irish negotiators during the Treaty negotiations. After Michael Collins was killed, Lavery painted Michael Collins, Love of Ireland, now in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery.

In 1929 John Lavery made substantial donations of his work to both The Ulster Museum and the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery and in the 1930s he returned to Ireland. He received honorary degrees from the University of Dublin and Queen's University of Belfast. He was also made a free man of both Dublin and Belfast.

He died in County Kilkenny, aged 84, from natural causes.

Personal life

Lavery's first wife, Kathleen MacDermott, whom he married in 1889, died of tuberculosis in 1891, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Eileen (later Lady Sempill, 1890-1935). In 1909 Lavery married Hazel Martyn (1887–1935), an Irish-American known for her beauty and poise; by her he had one daughter, Alice (Mrs. Jack McEnery). Hazel Lavery was to figure in more than 400 of her husband's paintings. The sumptuous The Artist's Studio: Lady Lavery with her Daughter Alice and Step-Daughter Eileen, currently is in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Hazel Lavery modelled for the allegorical figure of Ireland he painted on commission from the Irish government, reproduced on Irish banknotes from 1928 until 1975 and then as a watermark until the introduction of the Euro in 2002. The Laverys marriage was tempestuous, and Lady Lavery is reputed to have had affairs with Kevin O'Higgins and Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary leader; the latter died with a letter to her in his pocket. After Collins's death, Lady Lavery wore widow's weeds and tried to throw herself into his grave at the funeral.





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