John Lavery was born in Belfast, 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 started working by touching up photographic negatives in Glasgow and attended evening classes at the Haldane Academy of Art.
He painted at the village of Grès-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. He 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 Hazel Martyn, 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.
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 Lavery’s 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.
Sir John Lavery died in Rossenarra House, Kilmoganny, Co Kilkenny, aged 84, from natural causes, and was interred in Putney Vale Cemetery.
Photo: Lady Hazel Lavery as Cathleen ni Houlihan. Oil canvas (1923), by her husband, painter Sir John Lavery. This image of Lavery, who was born in Chicago, was used on Irish bank notes during most of the 20th century.
Photo: “Love of Ireland” by Sir John Lavery (Michael Collins)
Photo: Blessing of the Colours by John Lavery, 1922