Before Instagram, before the #selfie, and even before the tagline: “Kodak moment” became synonymous with the capturing of ordinary or extraordinary moments for posterity, it was the artist who captured these moments, recording history, faces of the world around them in all different mediums.

Prior to the emergence of mass photography artists were often commissioned to paint portraits and document events.   Lavery and Osborne were no exception. Living at a time of momentous change in society and with the ability to travel to broaden their knowledge of emergent painting styles, both of these artists captured history as it was made.

These days we are more likely to take a selfie and immediately post it to our social media platforms than to ever pose for a professional photographer but in the late 19th century a commissioned portrait was the norm for those who could afford it.

Portrait of Walter Clegg Stevenson MD | Walter Frederick Osborne | 1903 | PD | The RDS Collection

Days of sittings and months of painting would accumulate in a formal portrait that would hang in your home for all of your friends to admire.

Walter Clegg Stevenson, an eminent Dublin doctor who pioneered the use of radium for cancer treatment, was an ideal if not typical subject for Osborne at the time, as he was part of a Dublin society made up of scholars, doctors, academics and lawyers, to whom a commissioned portrait would have been commonplace.

This portrait style was in vogue at the time, giving the impression of an informal sketch. Sadly, this portrait commission which hangs in the RDS is thought to be the last finished painting by Osborne, completed in 1903.

During the late 19th century photography slowly expanded from its position as a medium exclusive to the upper classes into wider amateur use.  It was, in fact, occasionally used by Lavery and Osborne as an aide-mémoire for the completion of portraits.  

Still, at this time, even with the beginnings of the (Eastman) Kodak Company, and the emergence of photography as an ‘amateur’ artform; it was primarily up to the painter and portrait artist to document, record and capture the moment.

A Windy Day |Sir John Lavery | c1908 | PD | Private Collection | PD

A holiday moment captured in a photograph takes seconds but this snapshot sketch would have taken hours, and perhaps even days of additions and layering.

Lavery had a house called Dar-el-Midfah near Tangier, Morocco which was within walking distance of the shore. It provided inspiration for and is the setting for many of Lavery’s Morocan seascapes. The colour profile of the painting, and many of the other seascapes, would have been incredibly novel at the time. The scene here shows one of his travelling companions – his teenage daughter, Eileen, or his German model, Mary Auras – enjoying a walk on the windswept beach.

It hits very contemporary notes and evokes the perfect pre-Kodak Moment.  

Sir John Lavery and Walter Frederick Osborne were great exponents of the “Kodak Moment” capturing a fleeting look, a second in time and the small everyday moments experienced by all walks of life. They recorded and documented life in the late 19th and early 20th Century through their sketches and paintings.

The practice of Plein-Air or painting outside, contributed to the immediacy and snapshot nature of the work of both Lavery and Osborne. The painters who embraced plein-air were those who had practiced in the methods of sketching, they were adept at painting a quick snapshot of memory.  

Their paintings however did not just capture the moment but they also had painterly framing, articulated mastery of technique and depth of field that draws the viewer in and places you directly in the scene.

On Suffolk Sands | Walter Osborne | 1884 | Private Collection, courtesy of Milmo-Penny Fine Art | PD

On Suffolk Sands, painted before Osborne returned to Ireland to support his parents.

A quintessential seaside moment from the 19th Century, the painting also shows his commitment to the plein-air style, perfected during his time in Brittany.

Summer Afternoon | Sir John Lavery | 1886 | Private Collection, courtesy Patrick Bourne & Co London |PD

Summer Afternoon, a sketch from Lavery’s time spent at the estate of the Fulton family Glen Estate in Scotland.

It shows elements of impressionism and is a demonstration of Lavery’s use of natural light in plein-air style.

It records a moment of leisure, when the woman steps away from the path to read a book.

Influences

Both Lavery and Osborne were influenced by similar masters, including Jules Bastien-Lepage and James McNeill Whistler and by many of the different artistic styles that emerged in the Victorian period such as Plein-air, Naturalism, and Impressionism.

However, Lavery and Osborne’s successes often came from a fusion of these styles. As the academic Dr Kathryn Milligan described during The Hunt Museum Symposium on Lavery & Osborne; both artists did not commit entirely to one style throughout their careers.  They tended, like Bastien-Lepage, to “move between impressionistic vagueness and painstaking detail.”

For Osborne especially, his fusion of naturalistic style with the essence of impressionism was considered to be on the “cusp of perfection” shortly before he died. It was this fluidity between various styles that contributed to the success of both artists, especially their ability to adjust their style to the subject matter: from rural, everyday genre paintings to high society portraits. That being said, their commitment to the plein-air style is evident throughout their career.

1 Hunt Museum Summer Exhibition Lavery & Osborne Symposium 6 June 2019

For more detail on each of their influences and how they used them in their art click on the following:

Plein-Air

Naturalism

Impressionism

The Artist Recorder

“On looking back I see how stupid I was in attempting to compete with the camera.”
Sir John Lavery,
Life of a Painter, 1940, p.248

Lavery and Osborne documented life on canvas during the late 19th and early 20th century. Their paintings were clear pictorial records of life at that time. In deference to Lavery’s obvious painting abilities, the quote above refers to his self-reflections on his time in Hollywood.

Following Hazel’s death in 1935, and after hearing from Alice about life of the movie stars in Hollywood,  Lavery decided to travel there to paint the movie sets and stars. The trip resulted in some successful paintings such as Stars in Sunlight and the humorous self-portrait with Shirley Temple.  Although, protesting otherwise, his painting Stars in Sunlight painted in 1936, is a perfect example of the painter as an artist recorder.

“Had I given myself three years instead of three weeks I might have made history, but I had not the time to spare for a new venture, in my eighties…the waiting about was too much for me.”
Sir John Lavery, The Life of a Painter, 1940, p.258.

Stars in Sunlight | Sir John Lavery | 1936 | Courtesy Limerick City Gallery of Art’s Permanent Collection | PD

Stars In Sunlight features film stars Maureen O’Sullivan and Loretta Young reclining on a sun lounger in Los Angeles, Young would go on to win an Academy Award in 1948 for her role in The Farmer’s Daughter and O’Sullivan rose to prominence as Jane in a series of Tarzan films from 1932-1942.

In Stars in Sunlight, Lavery is recording a moment in time but also documenting two young woman on the tipping point to stardom.

The paintings of both Lavery and Osborne stand as visual documents, snapshots or moments in time. They expertly show in their colour, content and costume the period in which they were produced. For Lavery it was often a moment of historical significance: he documented apocalyptic events such as the upheaval and industrialism of London during World War I and with great sympathy, the death of Irish Nationalist hero Michael Collins “Love of Ireland”.

Shell Making, Edinburgh | Sir John Lavery | 1919 | Imperial War Museums | PD

This image painted in 1919 shows women working in a munitions factory in Edinburgh: by 1917 more than 80% of the munitions being used by the British Army were being made by women affectionately known as “Munitionettes.”

Both Lavery & Osborne, had an ability to transfer their spotlight from subject matter and style to another without losing quality. Osborne demonstrated the ability to paint a young boy in peasant clothing with as much sensitivity as those from high society.

Similarly, Lavery often painted his models Bella Cullen and Mary Auras, with similar sympathy to even his own wife, Hazel.  Likewise, Winston Churchill and his family were friends with John and Hazel Lavery. Lavery and Churchill painted together on many occasions and in reference to Mr. Churchill’s painting ability, Lavery states:

“had he chosen painting instead of statesmanship, I believe he would have been a great master with the brush”.
(Lavery, 1940, p.182)

Mrs. Winston Churchill and her Daughter Sarah | Sir John Lavery | c1915 | National Portrait Gallery, London | PD

This sketch shows an intimate moment between Mrs. Churchill and her daughter Sarah, the light flows onto the sitters from a window, highlighting their faces and their moment together.

The painter as documenter of sporting events was a common practice even in the late 19th and early 20th century, and Sir John Lavery recorded many sporting events, especially the new sport of Tennis during the late 19th century throughout his career, including the Ascot and Epsom horse races and as pictured here, a summer rowing competition by Maidenhead Rowing Club.

Maidenhead Regatta | Sir John Lavery | 1932 | Glasgow Museums | PD

The bright colours present in the image, the spectator’s clothing and the green lawn, is typical of Lavery’s brighter and lighter style of the 1930s

Osborne’s documentation of life in the late 19th century was from a slightly less exciting standpoint. In his works he often recorded ordinary, but no less significant, moments.

Cupboard Love | Walter Osborne| 1886 | Private Collection courtesy Pyms Gallery, London | NC-NoC

Works such as Cupboard Love where a young child is shown eating their breakfast at home, watched by their pet cat or works of personal family documentation: such as his portrait of younger sister Violet Osborne painting.

Portrait of Violet Osborne Painting | Walter Osborne| 1887 |
Private Collection | NC-NoC

Walter Osborne’s younger sister Violet died during childbirth in the 1890s and in this small sketch-like work Osborne paints Violet with poise and grace, delicacy and care he took when painting his sister apparent even when her profile is mostly hidden from view.

Notwithstanding the differences in content, both artists excelled at capturing life as it happened, without embellishment or excess. Their role as documenters is forever visible through their canvases.

Capturing the Moment curates the paintings of Sir John Lavery and Walter Frederick Osborne to illustrate how both artists used their skills to document and capture the people, places and significant events of the late 19th and early 20th century.  

From the well-known to the everyday, these two great Irish artists were effectively both the documenters and the social commentators of their day.

The exhibition is serialised in the following chapters:

Chapter 1:

The Ordinary & The Extraordinary

Chapter 2:

Forming the Artist

Chapter 3:

Chronicles of Friendship

Chapter 4:
Human Face Divine

Chapter 5:

New Worlds

Chapter 6:

End of an Era

Timelines

Timelines

Osborne

Walter Osborne |
The Walter Osborne Archive Collections |
©National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

Born

17th June 1859

Born to William Osborne and Anne Jane Woods, High Church Anglicans. The family lived at Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines, Dublin.

Education

1st January 1875

Completed his education at Rev. Benson’s Academy, Rathmines. Commenced studies at Royal Hibernian Academy Schools, Dublin. (Exact date unknown)

Taylor Prize

1st January 1879

Won the Irish Taylor Prize of £10 for A View from Templeogue Bridge, Dublin. (Exact date unknown)

Albert Prize

1st January 1880

Won the Albert Prize of £20 for his painting A Glade in Phoenix Park. (Exact date unknown)

Taylor Prize / Antwerp

1st January 1881

Won the prestigious Irish Taylor Prize of £50 for The Tempting Bait. Enrolled at Académie Royale des Beaux Arts, Antwerp. Studied figure drawing. (Exact date unknown)

Brittany

1st January 1883

Left Antwerp for Pont-Aven, Brittany. (Exact date unknown)

England

1st January 1884

Exhibited up to 20 Breton Paintings at Royal Hibernian Association, Dublin. Moved to England. Exhibited at Walker Gallery, Liverpool and Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. (Exact date unknown)

Tutor

1st January 1886

Elected to Royal Hibernian Academy. Taught William J. Leech at RHA schools. Founding member of Dublin Art Club. (Exact date unknown)

Tragedy / Ireland

1st January 1886

Death of his sister Violet. Returned to Ireland. Kept a studio at 7, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Derived income from portrait commissions. (Exact date unknown)

Awards Accepted & Refused

1st January 1900

Declined a Knighthood. Won bronze medal at Exposition Universelle de Paris, for Mrs Noel Guinness and her Daughter Margaret. (Exact date unknown)

Tragedy

1st January 1901

Death of his father William. (Exact date unknown)

Death

24th April 1903

Died of Pneumonia aged 43. He never married. Buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

Lavery

Sir John Lavery | Walter Stoneman |
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Born

20th March 1857

Born in North Inner Belfast to Catholic parents

Glasgow

1st January 1859

Deaths of both parents, moves to Glasgow and begins apprenticeship to photographer (Exact date unknown)

Haldane Academy

1st January 1874

Enrols at Haldane Academy, Glasgow. Opens studio with early success (Exact date unknown)

Paris

1st January 1881

(Exact date unknown) Moves to Paris, enrolls at Académie Julian

Grez-Sur-Loigne / Glasgow

1st January 1884

Spends time with fellow artists in Grez-Sur-Loigne in the French countryside. Returns to Glasgow later in the year (Exact date unknown)

Glasgow Exhibition

8th May 1888

Commissioned to record visit of Queen Victoria to Glasgow International Exhibition.  Gains public acclaim, moves to London as established portrait painter

Marriage / Morocco

1st January 1890

Marriage to Kathleen McDermott and birth of daughter Eileen. First visit to Morocco in same year (Exact date unknown)

Tragedy

1st January 1891

Death of Kathleen

Tangiers

1st January 1904

Purchases house near Tangier, winter home until 1920 (Exact date unknown)

Hazel

1st January 1910

Marries Hazel Trudeau, increasing international fame

War

1st January 1917

Commissioned as official War Artist

Knighthood

1st January 1918

Knighted by King George V (Exact date unknown)

Ireland

1st January 1920

Spends 1920’s increasing ties to Ireland

Tragedy

1st January 1935

Death of Hazel Lavery and daughter Eileen

Hollywood

1st January 1936

3 week visit to Hollywood, produces several portraits of ‘stars’

Final Years

1st January 1940

Moves to Co. Kilkenny to live with stepdaughter

Death

10th January 1941

Dies and is buried at Mt. Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. Final interment in 1947 with wife Hazel at Putney Vale, London