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Sir John Lavery (1856 - 1941):

John Lavery was born in North Queen Street, Belfast in 1856, the son of a wine and spirit merchant, but was orphaned at the age of three and for a number of unsettled years wandered between Moira, Magheralin, Saltcoats, Ayrshire and Glasgow. Finally he got a job touching up photographic negatives in Glasgow and attended evening classes at the Haldane Academy of Art there.

When a studio he had set up on his own was burned down he used the insurance money to study further in London and Paris (at the Acadamie Julian). An early work of his was actually hung next to Manet's Bar at the Folies Bergere at the 1882 salon. He painted at the village of Gras-sur-Loing before returning to Scotland with Alexander Roche. They, and some fellow artists, achieved success as the so-called "Glasgow boys," but Lavery soon moved on to London where he became a fashionable portrait painter with a studio at 5, Cromwell Place and a house in Tangier. 

Lavery painted everyone from Winston Churchill to John McCormack, and was also commissioned to record the key events of the Irish Civil War; his wife - the American socialite beauty Hazeel Martyn, whose portrait was later used on Irish banknotes - was passionately committed to the Irish cause and had a relationship with Michael Collins.

Honours were showered on Lavery, culminating in a knighthood in 1918. On the occasion of its opening he donated 35 of his paintings to the Belfast - now Ulster - Museum; they include the well-known Bridge at Gras. A triptych of his, The Madonna Of The Lakes (using his wife and step-daughter as models), is in St Patrick's Church, Donegall Street (where he himself had been baptised). His widow presented a further collection of his works to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

Lavery died on 10 January 1941, having published an autobiography Life Of A Painter the previous year. A self-portrait he executed in 1935 is on display in the Great Hall of Queen's University, Belfast.

Born: 1856
Died: 10 January 1941
Patrick Devlin

Updated 11/2104, Richard Froggatt