Press Release – Lavery & Osborne: Observing Life

//Press Release – Lavery & Osborne: Observing Life

Press Release – Lavery & Osborne: Observing Life

The Hunt Museum to feature a Summer exhibition of two Irish Greats
– Lavery and Osborne 1 June to 30 September


Sir John Lavery and Walter Frederick Osborne were born in the mid-nineteenth century and although there is no record of them ever having met, the pair lived somewhat parallel lives. They travelled extensively throughout their lives to Scotland, France, England and Belgium before ultimately returning home to Ireland. Both artists lived in artists colonies in France and were influenced in technique by artists such as Whistler and Bastien-Lepage who encouraged artists to paint outdoors using natural light. Lavery and Osborne were highly regarded by their peers in both their professional and private lives and are still seen as two of Ireland’s most talented and respected artists.  

Lavery and Osborne: Observing Life special exhibition brings together sixty two paintings by Sir John Lavery and Walter Frederick Osborne. Many of these works have not been exhibited and have been borrowed from private collections in the United Kingdom and United States and from Irish public institutions such as the Crawford Art Gallery, Limerick City Gallery of Art and the Ulster Museum, Belfast.

Not just for art aficionados, ‘Lavery and Osborne: Observing Life’ is a curation with very accessible pieces painted at home and abroad with broad appeal for all. Beautiful techniques which prevailed in the era were used by both artists to bring landscape and portrait work to life.  

As expressed by Exhibition Curator, Naomi O’Nolan, “I wanted to exhibit these two Irish artists together as although both travelled widely and were influenced by similar masters, these paintings demonstrate their similarities in technique but also the different lives they observed.”  

Kenneth McConkey notes in his essay, a Tale of Two Painters, included in the Exhibition catalogue, there is an undercurrent of political history, a reflection of the time and perceptions of what it meant to be Irish when they were painting but as he observes: “The two Irelands of course remained – and arguably, divisions were more deeply inscribed than ever in the inter-war years. But as its painters demonstrated, art knew no such boundaries and its values were common to all.”

The results are easy to read and interpret for those visiting and to help better understanding of works there will be a symposium on June 8th and an online exhibition,  

As Jill Cousins, CEO & Director of the Hunt Museum highlights, “We will be using video and social media to reach broader audiences but we are also keen on this exhibition living beyond its physical presence, so we will simultaneously release chapters of the lives, influences and paintings, of both artists.

Sir John Lavery RA RSA RHA(1856-1941) was born into poverty in Belfast. Pulling himself up by his bootstraps, he trained as a painter, spending time in Glasgow, London and, as was very much the trend at that time, Paris. Lavery was rewarded for his efforts, becoming a successful society portraitist and an official war artist. Throughout his career he considered himself a documentary artist, and politically undertook to paint portraits of all members of the Irish Treaty delegation in 1921.  In fact, so pleased were the Irish government with the help of both Lavery and his wife Hazel, they invited Lavery to paint a portrait of Hazel which featured on the old Irish Pound note until the 1970s. Lavery developed a fondness for landscapes, while living in France, and his works suggest the influences of the Impressionists Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and of course James McNeill Whistler.


Sir John Lavery exhibition highlights include …

Sir John Lavery, Stars in Sunlight, Courtesy Limerick City Gallery of Art’s Permanent Collection, Oil on board, 51 x 61cm
Public Domain

In 1936, listening to his granddaughter’s enthusiastic accounts of the most recent movies, Lavery conceived the idea of going to Hollywood and painting the stars. Outside the studios, Lavery painted a self-portrait with Shirley Temple, and the present canvas depicting Maureen O’Sullivan and Loretta Young, relaxing between roles.

Sir John Lavery, On the Cliffs, Tangier, Private Collection

Oil on canvas, 64 x 77 cm

No Copyright- Non Commercial Use Only

Leaving Dar-el-Midfah, it was a short walk from the hilltop to one of the small secluded beaches that fringe the North African coast, to the west of Tangier, at the place ‘where two oceans meet’. After their marriage in July 1909, the house became a winter retreat for Hazel, and Lavery’s new step-daughter, Alice. Although these days appear idyllic, it is clear that in the febrile politics and social unrest in Morocco, Hazel would not let her daughter out of her sight. As here, the
two are frequently shown together, the painter making use of scarlet and white notes in his models’ costumes, set against the wide expanse of sea.

Sir John Lavery, The Gold Turban 1929, Private Collection
Oil on canvas, 76 x 63.5 cm

No Copyright- Non Commercial Use Only,

The Gold Turban is the most haunting of Lavery’s late portraits of Hazel. It shows her wearing a glittering Uhlan-style shako, and swathed in fur which the painter later described as ‘the most becoming of all frames for the face when age sets in’ (Life of a Painter, p. 168). Lavery lived to see women’s faces transformed by modern cosmetics, and Hazel had an advertising contract with Ponds Cream. He commented at length about the deployment of lipstick which had obliterated the ‘cupid’s bow’ of old, and in the present canvas used the shadow cast by head-gear to bring belle allure to the eyes. Although other pictures of Hazel were painted, the present canvas is her last great portrait, as her final years were marked by illness.

Walter Frederick Osborne RHA  (1859 to 1903) was a prolific Irish impressionist and post-impressionist landscape and portrait painter.  He was best known for his documentary depictions of late 19th century working class life, most of his paintings are figurative and focus on women, children, the elderly, the poor, and the day-to-day life of ordinary people on Dublin streets. He also produced cityscapes and rural scenes, painted from both sketches and photographs. Osborne worked in oils, watercolours and numerous pencil sketches.

Having grown up in Rathmines, Osborne’s talent was evident as a young man and he travelled widely in his youth; studying at the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts in Antwerp.  Osborne had an engaging, charismatic personality and was well thought of in a variety of social circles. He died from pneumonia at just 43 years, before achieving his full potential. Like Lavery, Osborne he was offered a Knighthood, but turned it down.  

Walter Osborne, View from Templeogue Bridge, 1879, Dublin

Private Collection, Milmo-Penny Fine Art
Oil on canvas, 50.8 x 76.2 cm

Public Domain

In 1879 the young twenty-year-old Royal Hibernian Academy student, Walter Osborne, was awarded the Taylor Prize of £10 by the Royal Dublin Society. Although very much a juvenile production his entry for the competition, View from Templeogue Bridge, Dublin, showed enormous promise. Both competent and conventional it could almost have been designed specifically to appeal to conservative judges familiar with the work of Evergreen Academicians such as Thomas Sidney Cooper. The landscape, a profusion of detail, sets out to charm the eye. Even the rather flimsy cattle, painted in Cooper’s style, are motifs that harmonize with the peace and tranquillity of nature. At this point, Templeogue was of course, a tiny village within walking distance of Osborne’s home in Rathmines, and its bridge over the Dodder, built in 1800 and now replaced, gave picturesque views of
the Dublin mountains.

Walter Osborne, Pair of Pomeranians, c1900,

Courtesy Limerick City Gallery of Art’s Permanent Collection, Oil on linen, 61 x 74 cm
Public Domain

William Osborne (1823-1901) made a reasonable living in Dublin painting animals and had been elected a member of the RHA in 1868. When, following a not particularly distinguished academic school career, his son enrolled at the RHA Schools, Osborne’s family was fully supportive of his ambition to become an artist. It is not surprising that having grown up with awareness of his father’s practice, the young Walter Osborne should have demonstrated an aptitude for the depiction of animals. However, whereas Osborne père in works such as Tom Thumb and the Ogre, 1886 (unlocated), catered for Victorian sentiment, Osborne fils, tended to avoid anthropomorphizing his dogs and cats. It is nevertheless apparent in the present example that the Pomeranians have distinct personalities, and the artist’s masterly rendering of the texture of their coats, is heightened by juxtaposition to the arm of the chair, in what is clearly a tour de force.

Walter Osborne, Portrait of Violet Stockley with Rabbit, c1900

Private Collection, courtesy Gorry Gallery

Oil on canvas, 48 x 38 cm

No Copyright- Non Commercial Use Only


In 1893 when Walter Osborne’s sister died during childbirth, her daughter Violet was sent to live in Dublin with Osborne’s parents. In the years which followed, she frequently acted as his child model. Although undated we can assume that the girl was eight or nine when the present portrait was painted. The style of dress and the white collar would almost make one think that Osborne had been searching for precedents in the work of the Dutch and Spanish masters – enthusiasms of his friend, the art historian, Walter Armstrong. Touches of pink in the rabbit’s ears and the milky white of its fur also enliven the dark background.

‘Lavery & Osborne: Observing Life’ at the Hunt Museum Limerick takes place from
Saturday, 1st June and continues throughout the summer until 30  September. Tickets can be purchased at

Lavery & Osborne Symposium takes place at the Hunt Museum on June 8.   Tickets available at:


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