Dublin is the first venue for a major survey of more than 70 paintings by modern Irish master Sir John Lavery (1856 1941). It is the first major monographic exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland in three decades. The exhibition is made more remarkable in that it is the first show to be presented in partnership with Belfasts Ulster Museum, part of the National Museums Northern Ireland (23 February 9 June 2024) and the National Galleries Scotland in Edinburgh (20 July - 27 October 2024).
The popular description of John Lavery as a portrait painter reflects only one dimension of his work. Throughout his long career, the majority of Laverys solo exhibitions featured works related to his travels, with much of it related to business. Although what he documented may now be interpreted as images of pleasure, he himself never saw his paintings as mere holiday scenes.
Lavery seemed to be driven to paint the people and scenery around him wherever he went. Whether he was abroad for business or leisure, Lavery never travelled without his painting kit sometimes a small pochade box or, on other occasions, a larger collapsible easel designed specifically for 25 x 30-inch canvases.
Born in Belfast in 1856, Lavery studied art in Glasgow and London before continuing his training in Paris during the early 1880s. By the turn of the 20th-century, he had established himself as an internationally renowned artist and was the only Irishman to receive the Freedom of both Dublin and Belfast during the inter-war period, in a divided Ireland.
Paintings such as The Bridge at Grez (1883), The Greyhound (Sir Reginald Lister and Eileen Lavery; The Last British Minister, the Drawing Room, British Legation, Tangier) from 1910 and 1922s Michael Collins (Love of Ireland) along with a host of others became essential images of their times.
While not exclusively devoted to the notion of Lavery as artist-traveller, the exhibition focuses on some of the key destinations depicted in Laverys art, from Scotland to Palm Springs, Spain to Switzerland. Highlights include the works he produced at Grez-sur-Loing an historic village also popular with American, British, Scandinavian, and Japanese artist colonies - and Tangier, a place that had also attracted the likes of Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954).
In Grez, Lavery enjoyed a crucially formative period that he claimed as his happiest days in France, while Tangier provided him with ample opportunities to reassess the conventional tropes of Orientalism. A Garden in France (1898), recently acquired by the National Gallery of Ireland (pictured above) will be a highlight of the show.
The exhibition also includes on-the-spot studies he made in Switzerland, Spain, Ireland, and Italy, while cities from Glasgow to London, Venice, Cannes and New York are also represented. Such was the richness and variety of Laverys work that Winston Churchill concluded that his artistic mentor was a plein-airiste if ever there was one.
The exhibition is curated by Professor Kenneth McConkey, Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Northumbria and Dr Brendan Rooney, Head Curator, National Gallery of Ireland Dr Caroline Campbell, Director, National Gallery of Ireland, said: John Lavery was born in Belfast, spent his formative years in Ayrshire and Glasgow, and was a regular visitor to Dublin. He was proud to be a freeman of Belfast and Dublin and retained strong ties to Scotland. This exhibition is a perfect partnership between the National Gallery of Ireland, the Ulster Museum and the National Galleries of Scotland, as Laverys work has never ceased to be admired across Scotland and Ireland. Lavery. On Location focuses on the people, locations and sensations that John Lavery encountered in a life rich in travel and experience and shows a new dimension to the work of this much-loved painter.
Sir John Lavery (1856 1941)
The son of a wine and spirit merchant, Lavery spent his early years in his native Belfast, but moved to Scotland when he was orphaned at the age of three. Having lived with relatives at various locations, he took a job with a photographer in Glasgow and began attending the Haldane Academy of Art. He subsequently moved to London, and in turn to Paris to continue his studies, enrolling at the fêted Académie Julian. From Paris he travelled to the artists colony at Grez-sur-Loing.
On his return to Scotland, Lavery became a key member of the so-called Glasgow Boys, who appropriated French techniques to depict Scottish motifs. A commission to paint the visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888 drew attention to his work and precipitated his decision to move to London. Over the following decades, Lavery established himself as one of the foremost portrait painters in Europe. His sitters would include members of European royalty and aristocracy, and prominent political and cultural figures. He travelled to Belgium, Holland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, France, and North Africa (establishing a studio in Tangier) and painted wherever he went. Lavery befriended, and came under the considerable influence of James McNeill Whistler, and the harmonies that were key to the success of the Americans work informed the evolution of Laverys painting.
In 1909, Lavery married Chicago socialite Hazel Martyn and the couple travelled extensively over the next few years. They developed a keen interest in Irish politics, and during the Treaty negotiations, made their London home, 5 Cromwell Place, a point of contact for the British and Irish delegations. Lavery painted portraits of the main political players in the negotiations, as well as several key Irish political events including the trial of Roger Casement and the ratification of the Irish Treaty in the English House of Lords. His portrait of his wife Hazel as Cathleen Ni Houlihan was selected by the Currency Commission to feature on the new bank notes of the Irish Free State in 1927 and remained on Irish notes until 1975 (and as a watermark on notes until the adoption of the euro). Lavery was awarded a knighthood in 1918 and received the freedom of both Belfast (1930) and Dublin (1935). Following the death of Hazel in 1937 he travelled to California. He died in Rossannagh, Co. Kilkenny in 1941.
The National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin is one of the countrys most popular visitor attractions housing the nations collection of European and Irish art from about 1300 to the present day, and an extensive Library & Archive.
National Gallery of Ireland
Lavery: On Location
October 7th, 2023 - January 14th, 2024