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 John Lavery  (1856 - 1941)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom/Ireland/Scotland/England      Known for: portrait, genre and landscape painting

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The Honeymoon
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Sir John Lavery (1856-1941)

Born in Belfast, but soon orphaned, Lavery spent his early years on his uncle's farm.  At the age of ten, more family problems led to his relocation to Scotland where he attended the Haldane Academy in Glasgow.  Afterwards he worked as an apprentice photographer and, from this experience he developed an ambition to become a portrait painter.  He travelled to Paris in 1881, where he studied drawing at the Academie Julian and fine art painting at Colarossi's studio.  In 1883, he spent time at the artists' colony of Grez-sur-Loing, and made friends with the older Irish artist Frank O'Meara as well as the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, both of whom influenced his painting.  In 1883 he exhibited his first French landscape, Les Deux Pecheurs.

During his stay at the artists' colony, he took to landscape painting in the open air (en plein air) as he absorbed the ideas and methods of the Barbizon and Impressionist landscape school (including Manet and Degas), all of which were high fashion at the time. One of his favourite subjects was the river Loing - especially the local stone bridge.

In 1885, Lavery returned to Glasgow and became a leading member of the "Glasgow School". In 1888, he was given the commission of painting the state visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition. This task launched him as a society painter and he moved to London soon after where he set up a portrait studio in Cromwell Place.

In London he became acquainted with James McNeill Whistler and was noticeably influenced by him. The style of his society portrait art won him many admirers. He also spent time in Ireland where in 1907 he was duly elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin.

In 1914, like his fellow Irish artist William Orpen, Lavery was made an official war artist, but ill-health and a car accident ruled out any active duty.  It was during this time that he became friendly with the England's Prime Minister Asquith's family whose portraits he painted along with such pictures such as Summer on the River. 

Lavery was also a friend and Cromwell Place London neighbor of Winston and Clementine Churchill.  Winston was involved in a political struggle over his rejected World War I invasion plans for the Dardenelles, and forced into political inactivity, had time on his hands. Staying at Hoe Farm in a small country house with his family, he began sketching with watercolors.  His wife, not knowing that turpentine was needed for oil painting, bought him "every variety of oil paints available" but, without turpentine, 'disaster' ensued.  However, their friend Lavery, responding to a call from Clementine, came to the rescue. It is written that Lavery was "so overjoyed to hear of Winston's new ploy that he leaped into a hired car and drove immediately to Hoe Farm, bringing not only turpentine, but all his knowledge and skill." His wife, Hazel, was also an artist and between her and her husband, "they gave Winston the first lessons in painting, an occupation of which he never was to tire." (Soames, 165)  The Laverys remained close friends of the Churchills, and when Winston Churchill was on the battlegrounds as Battalion Commander during World I, Clementine spent many evenings at the Lavery home at Number 5 Cromwell Place.  Of these visits it was written: "They were staunch and understanding friends, and it soothed Clementine to sit quietly in John Lavery's studio while he painted.  He did a portrait of her at this time, which seems to distill sadness and stillness.  It now hangs, in its accustomed place, in Winston's study at Chartwell." (Soames, 214)

After the war, Lavery received a knighthood and then in 1921 was elected to the Royal Academy.  He also became more involved with Irish art and politics.  Lavery always saw himself as a recorder of events, thus, in 1921, during the Anglo-Irish negotiations over the Irish Treaty, he painted numerous portraits of the members of the Irish delegation, and after the death of the Irish Republican leader Michael Collins he completed Michael Collins, Love of Ireland.

In the 1930s, he returned to Ireland for good and died in County Kilkenny, aged 84.

Lavery first married Kathleen MacDermott, who tragically died of tuberculosis.  In 1909 he married the beautiful Irish-American Hazel Martyn (1887-1935), whom he also outlived. The knowing look exchanged by Lavery and Hazel, makes his portrait of her an especially intimate composition.  Lavery was obsessed by her beauty, and she appeared in over 400 of his paintings - see also the The Red Rose.  One of her portraits was replicated on the Irish pound note until the 1970s.  The Irish government invited Lavery to paint his wife's portrait for the punt in gratitude for the help the Laverys gave to the Irish political delegation in London, in 1921.

Lavery eventually returned to live in Ireland, and died in Kilkenny in 1941.  He is remembered as one of the greatest painters in the history of Irish art. and is a unique member of the £1 Million Club.

Online Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art

Mary Soames, Clementine

Biography from Odon Wagner Gallery:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

John Lavery was born in Belfast, Ireland and went on to study in Glasgow, London and Paris.  He was a pupil of William Bougeureau and studied at the progressive, private Academie Julian art school in Paris.  He became an exhibiting member Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy in London, and of some of the  European academies in Brussels, Stockholm and Rome.

He actively painted portraits, genres scenes and landscapes some of which brought him international attention.  Though he was officially a War Artist during WWI, he would remain best known for his portraits.

His paintings are found in the permanent collections of the Tate in London, in Edinburgh, Brussels, Berlin and Munich.

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