Sir John Lavery was born in North Queen Street, Belfast the son of Henry and Mary Lavery (nee Donnelly). Orphaned aged three John and his siblings - Henry(1855) and Jane(1857) - went to live with different relatives - John to his Uncle and Aunt Edward and Rose Lavery at their farm in Moira, County Down. Aged 10 he came to live in Saltcoats with his Aunt's cousin at the Union Loan Office in Countess Street. John moved between Saltcoats, Glasgow and Moira for a few years before finishing his schooling in Saltcoats. His time in Saltcoats is fondly recalled in his autobiography "The life of a painter" and "John Lavery and His Work" by Walter Shaw Sparrow (available to read in the Heritage Centre, Saltcoats) as examples he recalls:
He attributes his final years in Saltcoats as being "the turning point in my life" as it was here that he became fascinated by the local grocer who drew "profiles in pencil" which he copied before moving on to draw himself "until I was getting a reputation almost equal to that of the grocer".
With encouragement from his Uncle he determined that he would become an artist and he began to "draw day and night - gaining confidence with every step I took". On seeing an advert in the Glasgow Herald "SITUATIONS VACANT - A smart lad with knowledge of drawing wanted. Apply with specimens of work to J.B. MacNair, Artist and Photographer, 11 West Nile Street" he jumped on the first train to Glasgow and landed an apprenticeship, which enabled him to finance attendance at the Art School.
After finishing his 3 year apprentiship he set up on his own in the West End of Glasgow with a brass plate on the door "JOHN LAVERY, ARTIST".
His career began in earnest at this point. There were further periods of study in London and Paris and on his return his painting a "Tennis Party"(1884) was accepted by the Royal Academy and was linked with what later became "The Glasgow School". Following a small one man show in Glasgow in Spring of 1888, he was chosen by Glasgow Corporation to paint the state visit of Queen Victoria in the August. This large canvas required personal sittings from over 200 people, including Queen Victoria. The painting still hangs in the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow.
This launched his career as a society painter and he moved to London. He was appointed an official war artist during WW1 and when ill health prevented him going to the front, the Admiralty commissioned him to make a record on canvas of the naval bases which included various studies of the Fleet on the Forth. View a slideshow that includes this painting on the BBC website.
In 1921, he was elected to the Royal Academy. He was also a member of the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academies of Rome, Antwerp, Milan, Brussels, Stockholm, the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts of Paris and the Autumn Salon. Was "Hors Concours" (not competing for awards, unrivalled) in the Society of French Artists and Corresponding member of the Institute of France. Member of the Secessions of Berlin, Munich and Vienna and the Sociéty of Spanish Artists in Madrid. He was knighted in 1918. Chevalier of the Crown of Italy of Leopold of Belgium. Hon. LL.D of Queen's University, Belfast 1935; of Trinity College, Dublin 1936 and a freeman of both cities.
In his personal life his first wife Kathleen MacDickmott died of tuberculosis shortly after the birth of their daughter Eileen. In 1909 he married Hazel Martyn (1886 - 1935) and they had one daughter Alice. Hazel was an Irish American beauty and was often used as a subject by her husband in his paintings - including the figure used on Irish banknotes from 1928 until 1975. He died in County Kilkenny, aged 84, from natural causes. He is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery. View images of his grave on the Irish Graves and the Find a Grave websites.
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