This is not a cheap book, but is nevertheless a very generous one in every respect; of generous dimensions, so as to do justice to the many astonishingly good artworks, and with a generous number of pages to do full justice to Lavery's astonishingly entertaining story, which is written in a graphic, detailed but eminently easy-to-read style.
The cover illustrates two aspects of Lavery's life - his adoration of Velazquez, and his adoration of his beautiful young American wife, whose portrait this is, and whom he painted constantly throughout their life together, even when she lay, still beautiful, prematurely dying, only 6 years after the cover portrait. His last homage to her was to paint her closed coffin lying in their house, which he titled "It is finished".
Any life story which begins with a poor, orphan, Irish boy sleeping homeless on the streets of Glasgow, and ends with Knighthood and the painter of Kings and Hollywood, is obviously the very stuff of romantic fiction, but it gets even better; his adored Hazel was snatched from him initially by her disapproving parents, and swiftly married off to a successful American Physician - only for the poor fellow to promptly die of pneumonia even before their first child was born, whereupon she and Lavery made clandestine contact; and at the first opportunity she happily made her determined way back to him, complete with daughter, whom Lavery also adored, and who cared for him in his final years. There is still more woven into this tale, including the Irish question. Both Lavery and his wife felt strongly about Ireland (she was irish-American) - even jointly writing to rebuke Churchill (he and Lavery had painted each other's portraits) and to correctly prophesy the disastrous effect of his policies in 1921. He also painted Casement's trial, and Michael Collins lying in state, as well as living Irish leaders on both sides, having declared to Churchill, "Ireland will never be governed by Westminster, the Vatican or Ulster without bloodshed."
Lavery was the most famous painter of his time, more famous even than Sargent, for example, but in the way of fashion, has received less attention since his death in 1941. His style is imperishable; his painting of Hazel, "The studio window" on page 135 will strike a familiar chord with anyone who is familiar with the works of contemporary artist Ken Howard (another superb painter whose books are worth acquiring).
I do have a few quibbles; paintings are rarely shown on the same or adjoining page as the text which refers to them, which I found a considerable irritant; and the reproductions are not always of the highest quality. That said, they do come from many different sources, many obviously being from Sotheby's and Christies' catalogues, for example, so this is understandable.
Lavery's story would make a very fine and very glamorous epic TV series, and it is a mystery to me why no-one has taken it up. It can surely only be a matter of time. I would not be without this book in my art library. The author has done a splendid job. Worth buying at any price.
on 31 August 2013
This is without doubt a very accurate account of the fascinating life and work of Sir John Lavery.
It is well laid out and informative , the quality of the reproductions are very good on the whole ,however, it must be said that the images of his work are on the small side, even when they are placed on one entire page. This is disappointing as from the cover image one expects luscious glossy full page images to enjoy his rapid brushwork.
Overall though its a cracking good account of this master painters oeuvre.