Sir John Lavery's "Spring"

Spring.jpg /

Sir John Lavery, who painted "Spring," was a prominent Irish artist in the late 19th and early 20th century. Both he and his wife, Hazel, were well-known throughout Ireland, England, and America for his artwork, their A-list friends, and their work with the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921.

1. When John Lavery was only 3 years old, his father drowned at sea while emigrating to America. Shortly thereafter, Lavery's mother also passed away. He was raised by relatives on a farm; today, the farm is the location of a restaurant that features John Lavery paintings and memorabilia.

2. Lavery was commissioned in 1888 to paint the state visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition. He managed to get a sitting with the queen herself, and his career as a society painter was launched. In the ensuing years, he painted portraits of George Bernard Shaw, J.M. Barrie, Winston Churchill, Lord Asquith (the British prime minister) and his family, and Michael Collins, among others. During a brief stay in Hollywood, he painted a self-portrait with Shirley Temple.

3. Lavery's first wife, Kathleen McDermott, died of tuberculosis shortly after giving birth to their daughter Eileen, just two years into their marriage. Eight years later, he married Hazel Martyn, who had been married for a few short months in 1903 before her husband passed away. Hazel was considered not just "one of the most beautiful young women in Chicago," but "the most beautiful girl in the Midwest." During the Laverys' tempestuous marriage, which produced one daughter, Alice, Hazel was reportedly involved with Kevin O'Higgins and Michael Collins. After both O'Higgins' and Collins' murders, Hazel apparently reacted as a widow. She wore widow's weeds after Collins' death and even tried to throw herself into his grave during the funeral.

4. Despite his wife's rumored infidelities, Lavery was devoted to Hazel and featured her in more than 400 of his paintings. Her face became famous throughout Ireland, as she was Lavery's model for the allegorical figure of Ireland that appeared on Irish banknotes from 1928 to 1975 (and then as a watermark on the banknotes until the Euro was introduced in 2002).

5. During World War I, Lavery was appointed as an official artist, but he was unable to travel to the Western Front due to poor health. In 1918, he painted the surrender of the German fleet at Rosyth, standing alongside his friend and neighbor, Winston Churchill. Lavery was knighted after the war.

6. Over three short years, Lavery was involved in two serious car crashes. The first, in 1915, occurred late at night in London, when the taxi Lavery and his wife were traveling in skidded on the wet pavement and crashed into a lamppost. The driver was thrown from the vehicle; Lavery and Hazel hit the window and suffered severe cuts which took surgeons two hours to repair. The second occurred during a Zeppelin bombing raid, shortly after Lavery's appointment as an official artist for the first world war, and Lavery's injuries further curtailed his duties.

7. In 1921, the Laverys' home at Cromwell Place in South Kensington was lent to the Irish delegation during negotiations for the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It was during this time that Hazel Lavery became well-acquainted with Michael Collins, who was leading the Irish delegation.

8. Lavery penned his autobiography, The Life of a Painter, in 1940, at age 84. He died the following year.

A larger version of "Spring" is available here.

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