End of an Era
The painting that captured the moment had begun to be replaced by the photograph at the start of the 20th century, this together with a change in public taste determined demand for the work of both Osborne and Lavery.
After the death of his sister in 1893 Osborne returned permanently to his family home in Rathmines. His days wandering the French and English countryside for subjects became less frequent and instead he focused on painting within Ireland. Osborne travelled throughout the Irish counties painting his favourite rural scenes but struggled to find a market for these rural works in the Irish and English art markets.
“Above all else he loved nature in all her various moods as so beautifully demonstrated in so many of his wonderful paintings”
Terry DeValera on Walter Osborne in a speech made to the Old Dublin Society 1988.
(DeValera, J.B.S MacIIwain RHA, friend of Walter Osborne RHA, Dublin Historical Record, 1989)
This painting, painted during one of Osborne’s winters at the Jameson family farm in St Marnocks illustrates his fondness for rural genre scenes. Milking Time resulted from a series of studies of cows, and sees the influence of George Clausen in his use of light showing through the aperture in the roof.
In the early 1900s there was still demand for portrait painters, and Osborne, despite his reputed reluctance, excelled as a portrait painter. He worked on his compositions, learning from the masters, improving his technique and ability and showed empathy with his sitters.
Canon Travers Smith was a theological scholar and teacher, his gentle manner is beautifully captured by Osborne using a limited colour palette and sufficient background detail with the books stacked upon a desk to balance the picture.
His niece Violet remembered her uncle fondly, recalling that he was dapper, taking care over his appearance. He cycled around Dublin and played cricket, a sociable and affable person moving comfortably within artistic and cultural circles in Dublin. Thought to be maturing into one of the greats of Irish art, he suddenly died from pneumonia on the 23 April 1903. When his death was announced it was received with shock among the artistic community of which he was a part.
Charles Osborne, Walter Osborne’s brother was so grief stricken after the death of his brother that he wished to “burn everything” (Jeanne Sheehy, Walter Osborne, 1983, p.41), fortunately for Irish art this did not happen.
Lavery’s role as a recorder, despite the advent of the camera as a more immediate means of capturing the moment, continued to be in demand. In 1916 the Belfast born Lavery was a prominent figure in English society but, with some prompting from his wife Hazel, his personal sympathies more often leant towards his homeland.
In 1916 Irish diplomat and nationalist Sir Roger Casement was convicted of High Treason after his attempt to gain German military aid for the Easter Rising. Casement’s trial and subsequent execution divided public opinion across England and Ireland and is considered a turning point in Irish/British relations. After the trial, Casement wrote to his family asking “Who was that painter in the jury box?” writing that he felt reassured by the face of the painter as his verdict was read out. Lavery was invited by a former portrait subject and the presiding judge Sir Charles Darling to paint the trial, However the work remained in Lavery’s possession until his death in 1941. In this work Casement is the only figure looking towards the viewer, his expression grave.
After the deaths of both his wife Hazel and his daughter Eileen in 1935, John Lavery, despite the greater prevalence of the camera, continued to record events in painting.
Lavery painted the Coronation procession of King George V from a balcony in Piccadilly. To Lavery, the most interesting part of the procession were those in the crowd watching it. To the left of the frame in this work he has painted his granddaughter Anne Forbes-Sempill and his assistant Katherine FitzGerald as they watch the celebrations below. The figure on the centre left of frame, the only person not watching the procession is the painter himself.
Towards the end of the 1930s Lavery spent more time painting in the United States and in his homeland of Ireland. His stepdaughter Alice was living in Kilkenny when Lavery, fearing the bombings of WWII, asked her to accept him as a “superannuated evacuee.” During his final years in Kilkenny, Lavery wrote his autobiography, Life of a Painter, published in 1940, giving us some insight into his life, his thoughts on his sitters, his friends and family. After a lifetime spent documenting other people, Lavery turned the lens on himself.
Self Portrait, The Silver Casket | Sir John Lavery | 1934| Queen’s University Belfast | PD
After being requested to paint a self portrait for the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in 1908, Lavery continued to paint self portraits every few years. In this work, painted in 1934, Lavery paints himself in Doctor of Law robes that accompanied his honorary doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast in 1925. He is holding the silver casket “freedom box” that is symbolic of the Freedom of Belfast, which he was awarded in 1930.
On January 10th 1941 John Lavery died at Rossenarra House, the home of his stepdaughter Alice in County Kilkenny. He was buried in Ireland before being reinterred at the end of the war in Putney Vale Cemetery London beside his wife Hazel.
In the latter half of the 1800s when Lavery and Osborne were paving their career paths, painters, especially portraitists, were highly valued.
Lavery would undoubtedly have been aware of the huge increase in photography and film, not completely replacing portraiture and the artist as the recorder but reducing their importance.
Both Lavery and Osborne used their unique talent to record life as it was lived. Just as photographs capture a moment in time, suspended forever, the works of these two Irish greats are reflections of people, places and significant moments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, faithfully transcribed into art.