Human Face Divine

Many portraits are commissioned but many more are painted simply for the artist’s enjoyment.

Lavery and Osborne painted portraits early on in their careers having undoubtedly learnt portraiture at their respective art schools.

The Flattery of Faces

In Brittany Lavery painted the faces of the ordinary people of Grez, such as the staff of the Hotel Chevillon where he and other painters stayed.

On his return to Glasgow the subject matter of his paintings changed when he took on the role of ‘unofficial’ artist during the first Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888. 

He painted people as they moved through its Cocoa House and Moorish Palaces. He included the Venetian gondolas, the lights and lanterns that decorated the Exhibition campus, as can be seen in A View from the Canal, Kelvingrove, of the Industrial Hall, at The first Glasgow International Exhibition, 1888.

After his success in this role, and that of TheTennis Party, which received a gold medal at the Paris Salon, he began to paint “Society.”

Miss Kate Gentles |Sir John Lavery | 1889| Private Collection| PD

This painting of Miss Kate Gentles is an early work of Lavery’s, painted in Glasgow after his return from France.

Lavery’s skill at capturing faces is apparent even with the woman positioned in profile.

The classical realist style of the work is reminiscent of Lavery’s tutor at the Academie Julian in Paris William Adolphe Bouguereau.

As Lavery’s reputation grew  so did requests for commissioned portraits.

His friendship with the wealthy Paisley industrialists resulted in commissions to paint their children and uncommissioned sketches taken at times of leisure during his stay on their estates.

Miss Katherine McLaren at Glencarron | Sir John Lavery| 1891| Private Collection courtesy Patrick Bourne & Co, London| PD

This  ‘sketch-like’ portrait of Miss Katherine McLaren, was intended to hang in the gun room of the family’s estate in Glencarron. Katherine in a moment of relaxation and repose.

Lavery’s wide, soft brush strokes implying a calm and relaxed scene instead of the sharp, carefully detailed style of a formal portrait.

Katherine and her sister Esther sat for a formal portrait: Miss Esther Joanna Marie McLaren and Mrs Katherine Oliver, née McLaren at a later date. 

Miss Esther Joanna Marie McLaren and Mrs Katherine Oliver nee McLaren| Sir John Lavery| 1892| City of Edinburgh Council | PD

For Lavery portraits were the grounding for his commercial success.

After his commission to paint the Queen’s visit to the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1888 and his subsequent portrait of the Royal Family in 1913, Lavery was regarded as first Glasgow, and then London’s foremost portrait artist.

Reflecting on his success as a portrait painter Lavery remarked:

I have often tried to please the sitter and like the man, the donkey and the bridge, ended by pleasing nobody.

I have felt ashamed, spending my life trying to please sitters and make friends instead of telling the truth and making enemies.”

 Sir John Lavery ‘The Life of a Painter’ (1940, p. 156)

Lady Simon | Sir John Lavery| 1935| Museum of the Order of St John | PD

Lady Kathleen Rochard Simon born in Rathmines, Dublin (like Walter Osborne) was a British slavery abolitionist. Together with her second husband, Sir John Simon, she campaigned against all forms of servitude. All her life she traveled and spoke about ending slavery.  She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1933. 

Ramsay MacDonald | Sir John Lavery | 1931| © National Portrait Gallery, London

Lavery’s reputation as London’s premier portrait painter continued until his death in 1941. When he painted this portrait of Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald in 1931 Lavery was 75 years old, and still very present in the social and political circles of London and Ireland.

Portraits for Pennies

Osborne is thought to have painted portraits from need rather than passion. 

Dublin can’t support more than one portrait painter…right now it is Walter Osborne

George Russell in a letter to Lady Gregory 1901 (via Irish Times, 2000)

From the 1890s to his untimely death in 1903, Walter Osborne was most known as a portrait artist.

There are several theories as to why he changed from rural everyday scenes to formal portraits of the upper echelons of society such as his work was not selling as well as it had or he needed to provide an income to support his family, with the death of his sister and consequent care of his niece.

Sir James Musgrave (1829-1904) | Walter Osborne | 1898| Belfast Harbour Commissioners |PD

In the later half of the 19th and beginning years of the 20th century, there was a noticeable decline in demand for paintings of rural scenes works.

Osborne’s father, who had until that point made a reasonable living as an animal portrait painter for wealthy families, began to struggle financially and Osborne may have also experienced a decrease in his own income with the change in the art that was considered fashionable.

Mrs. C. Litton Falkiner (Lady in White) | Walter Osborne |1902| Limerick City Gallery of Art’s Permanent Collection | PD

This Osborne sketch was a sitting for the finished commissioned portrait hanging in the National Gallery of Ireland.  Mrs Litton Falkiner was the daughter-in-law of Sir Frederick Falkiner who was Recorder of Dublin.

A man of very biased judgements and anti-semitic viewpoints, Sir Frederick Falkiner is immortalised forever in James Joyces’ Ulysses. 

Although it is thought that Osborne needed rather than wanted to be a portrait artist, it was a genre in which he eventually excelled. His work Mrs Noel Guinness and her Daughter Margaret receiving a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle in 1900.

Portrait of Mrs. Chadwyck Healy and her Daughter | Walter Osborne | 1901 |© National Gallery of Ireland| PD

This portrait of Mrs. Healy and her daughter is very similar in style to Osborne’s aforementioned award winning portrait. Osborne’s ability to capture children in an unsentimental way is very apparent here.  The young girl sits, with her mother, looking somewhat impatient, or maybe bored. Osborne undertook many similar commissions in the years between 1890 and his death in 1903.

Portrait of Mrs Mead | Walter Osborne| 1899| Private Collection | PD

Another example of a commissioned portrait. Mrs Mead was the wife of Alderman Joseph Mead, who was twice Lord Mayor of Dublin (in 1891 and 1892) and one of the most notorious slum landlords in the city. He owned the large Georgian house at 7 Henrietta St where at one time up to 19 families were living in overcrowded, dirty, disease-ridden conditions. (, august 2011)

In 1900 Walter Osborne was offered, and turned down, a British knighthood for his services to art in Ireland.

He was a private, work and family oriented man who excelled in his profession with seemingly no desire nor inclination to become the most well known or famous artist in Ireland.

He made a steady living from commissioned portraits, and spent his spare hours painting rural landscapes or busy inner city street scenes.

Osborne was, in fact, regarded as the best portraitist in Dublin at the time of his death in April 1903.


Lavery had  one particularly favourite subject. A woman he painted over 400 times. His second wife, Lady Hazel Lavery.

The Gold Turban | Sir John Lavery | 1929 | Private Collection| NC-NoC

This painting of Hazel is considered the ‘last great portrait’ of Lavery’s second wife. Hazel suffered from various illnesses in the last decade of her life and died at the Lavery’s home in Cromwell Place, London, in 1935.  In this work Hazel’s figure is clad in a fur coat, her eyes almost completely shadowed by the turban she wears, and yet, a viewer is instantly drawn to her face, just as Lavery was.  

Lavery met Hazel for the first time in 1904 in France.

Hazel was already engaged and went on to marry Canadian surgeon Edward Livingston Trudeau Jr, with whom she had a daughter, Alice.

After the sudden death of her first husband, Hazel and Lavery rekindled their friendship and married in 1909.

Enamoured with her beauty from the very beginning Lavery described her as having “the largest and most heavenly eyes I had ever seen” (Sir John Lavery, Life of a Painter,  1940, p. 128).

Lavery’s paintings of Hazel gained both artist and subject acclaim and recognition in London society and Hazel, who moved effortlessly through social situations, became a well known and recognisable figure in England. 

This fame increased after the role both she and John Lavery played in treaty negotiations in the 1920s, Ireland also ( see Chapter 3).

In 1926 Lavery painted a full length portrait of Hazel with bare arms and shoulders . 

The painting was used as an advertisement for Ponds Cold Cream, with a written endorsement from Hazel.

Lady Hazel Lavery in an advertorial for Pond’s Cold Cream |Tatler Magazine | c1925 | PD

The Green Coat | Sir John Lavery| 1926 | © National Museums NI 

A reworked painting, with a coat added to partially cover Hazel’s arms, was later donated to the Ulster Museum, Belfast.

After Irish Independence in 1922 and the formation of the Irish Free State, the Irish Government issued seven denominations of new Irish bank notes in 1928.

Lavery was commissioned to paint a symbolic figure as their main feature.

The final note featured Hazel Lavery as the mythical Kathleen Ni Houlihan . A symbolic figure for Nationalism in Ireland, Kathleen Ni Houlihan is usually portrayed as an old woman who is in need of young Irish men to fight and give their lives for Ireland against colonial oppression.

The ‘Irish pound’ featuring Hazel remained in production until 1999 and in circulation until the introduction of the euro in 2002.

Lavery believed that he received the bank note commission as an acknowledgement of the hand both Lavery’s had in the establishment of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.  

Portrait of Lady Lavery as Kathleen Ni Houlihan | Sir John Lavery | 1927|

On loan from the Central Bank of Ireland, National Gallery of Ireland | NC-NoC

Both Lavery and Osborne were superb portrait artists.

Throughout their careers they were considered the foremost portrait artist in their respective cities and both were known primarily as portrait artists at the time of their deaths.

As artists, they were fascinated by human faces and expressions, how people smiled, how they frowned, the angles of their face and the slope of their noses.

Their objective when painting a portrait was to show the likeness but also the essence of the person.


Chapter 1:

The Ordinary & The Extraordinary

Chapter 2:

Forming the Artist

Chapter 3:

Chronicles of Friendship

Chapter 5:
New Worlds

Chapter 6:

End of an Era