Recounting his life and achievements in old age, Sir John Lavery resorted to picaresque conventions – an orphan lad from Belfast, he discovered a talent for painting while working as a photographer’s assistant, got himself to Paris by a series of misadventures, became a leading member of the Glasgow School, and ended up as a royal portraitist laden with international honours.
His amusing, often apocryphal tale published in 1940 obscures the fact that the most important diary of Lavery’s remarkable career lies in his painting. A friend of Whistler and Rodin, he was fêted at the Venice Biennale and became a Royal Academician and Official War Artist. During these years he was part of the international community at Tangier, where he established a winter studio. At the time of the struggle for Irish independence he painted portraits of the rebel leaders, including an extraordinary portrait of the patriot, Michael Collins, on his deathbed. A few years later an iconic image of his wife, Hazel, was used on the Irish currency.
Winters in the 1920s were often spent in Florida or on the Riviera, savouring a Scott Fitzgerald lifestyle. Five years before his death in 1941 he set off for Hollywood to paint portraits of the stars. This new account is the result of painstaking research that adds greatly to our knowledge of the painter, the Edwardian art world and many of his distinguished contemporaries.