Until the 31 of October 2010 – Dublin City, the Hugh Lane Gallery
Sir John Lavery was one of the most famous celebrity portrait painters at the turn of the 20th century. He and his beautiful wife Hazel, who was born in Chicago, were the original celebrity couple in London society where John enjoyed huge patronage from the British establishment. They counted Winston Churchill among their friends and Hazel, herself an artist, taught him to paint.

Sir John Lavery donated a substantial number of works to The Hugh Lane when his wife Hazel died in 1935. Previously, in 1929, he donated a large collection of work to the then Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, now the Ulster Museum. These two donations to the North and South of the ‘Island of Ireland’ provide a unique insight into that turbulent period of our history. It is one of the most singular and significant historical records of the period and is at the heart of this exhibition, Sir John Lavery: Passion and Politics. The exhibition includes film and archive material, never shown in public exhibition before, that provide insights into the social and political context in which Lavery was painting. Passion and Politics documents the lives of Sir John and Hazel Lavery and their involvement in a newly shaped Ireland, a partitioned Ireland, which had only recently been formalised at the time of his gift.

John Lavery’s passion for his wife is steadfast throughout his career. She was his muse. As her fame and reputation grew Hazel became an inspiration for others. As a media conscious couple, they saw the advantage of press attention and used it to the full. They contrived a celebrity cult status unprecedented in society of that time and Lavery’s portraits of pre and post war England is redolent of the life of the privileged classes. His Irish oeuvre however is centred mainly on historic events and religious, political and social subjects.

Central to this exhibition is the large triptych entitled The Madonna of the Lakes, which Lavery donated to the church in which he had been baptised: St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, Belfast. The work is based on a tableau vivant that depicts Hazel as the Madonna and consolidates her iconic status. Commissioned by the Irish Free State Government to design the new bank notes, Lavery used Hazel as his model for Kathleen Ni Houlihan. The original painting for this image is on view in this exhibition.

Another highlight of the exhibition is High Treason, Court of Criminal Appeal: the Trial of Roger Casement, a large painting of one of the great miscarriages of justice from that period. Lavery paints the court room scene where Sir Roger Casement made his appeal against his sentencing for treason for attempting to bring arms from Germany to Ireland in support of the 1916 Rising. This work was an extremely brave undertaking for an artist whose livelihood was derived primarily from patronage by the British establishment.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with new research and essay by Sinéad McCoole, author of Hazel: A Life of Lady Lavery

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