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Sir John Lavery – Art and the man

Sir John Lavery

Sir John Lavery

Lavery was born in Belfast on 20th March 1856. His father was an unsuccessful publican who was drowned when his son was only three years old; and not too long afterwards he also lost his mother. Orphaned at such an early age he was raised on a farm north of the city by an uncle, until he was ten years old when he travelled to Scotland where he was cared for by other relatives.

He went to the Haldane Academy in Glasgow and was later apprenticed to a photographer/painter where his love of art was fired. From this time on it was his singular ambition to become a painter and he studied at the Glasgow School of Art. By the time he was twenty-three he had set-up as an independent artist. In 1879, in order to improve his technique and find out what was going on in the art world, he went to London where he studied at Heatherley’s School of Art for six months.

Hungry for knowledge he travelled to Paris in 1881, where he studied drawing and fine art at the Academie Julian. In 1883, he visited the artists’ colony of Grez-sur-Loing (which is about 70km south of Paris) and got to know the Irish artist Frank O’Meara, who was from Carlow, and the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, both of whom influenced his painting style. Among the many artists that he met there were the American painter John Singer Sergeant, writers Robert Louis Stevenson and August Strindberg and the English composer Frederick Delius.

The Bridge at Grez

The Bridge at Grez

While at the artists’ colony he became absorbed with landscape painting in the open air (en plein-air), which was very much in fashion due to the influence and growing interest in Impressionism. It was the ‘in thing’ and Lavery wanted to know all about it. His painting The Bridge at Grez (sold by Christie’s in 1998 for £1.3m) clearly shows how he had taken on board the influences that surrounded him. Later in the year he exhibited his first French landscape, Les Deux Pecheurs.

Barry Edward O’Meara,

Barry Edward O’Meara

O’Meara’s grandfather, Barry Edward O’Meara, was a surgeon in the Royal Navy and sailed on board the HMS Northumberland with Napoleon Bonaparte, as his physician on St Helena. Later he wrote about his experience in Napoleon in Exile, or A Voice From St. Helena (1822). Among the mementoes that O’Meara brought back from St Helena is Napoleon’s toothbrush with N stamped on its silver handle. He gave it to O’Meara, and years later it made its way to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland on Kildare Street.

In 1885 Lavery he returned to Scotland and became one of the leading lights in the Glasgow Boys group of painters that included, among others, James Guthrie, James Paterson, and David Gauld. These painters were at the forefront of introducing modern art into Scotland, and many often painted outdoors, preferring the immediacy of the light and atmosphere to the sterility of the studio. The following year brought him his first significant recognition when his painting The Tennis Party (1885) was shown at the Royal Academy, London where it was widely admired and later purchased by the great German gallery Neue Pinakothek in Munich.

In 1888 he won the commission to paint Queen Victoria’s State Visit to the Glasgow International Exhibition. He was subsequently granted a sitting by the Queen and from then on his position as a much sought-after painter was assured. After that he could afford to move to London where he set-up his studio in Cromwell Road, Kensington. His portraits of the rich and famous made him a wealthy and busy man, and one who liked to travel. This lust for new places took him across Europe where his works featured in exhibitions in Paris, Berlin and Rome. His paintings were popular on the Continent, so much so that two of them, Father & Daughter and Spring, were acquired by the Louvre. Also, he was given the rare honour of having a one-man show at the Venice Biennale of 1910. And for a time he had a studio in Tangiers where he liked to paint outdoors in the brilliant light.

Lady Lavery

Lady Lavery

Lavery was first married to Kathleen MacDermott in 1889, but she tragically died of tuberculosis in 1891 after the birth of their daughter  Eileen (later Lady Sempill 1890-1935). In 1904, while on holidays in Brittany, Lavery first met Hazel Martyn who was then engaged to a Canadian doctor, Edward Trudeau, who died five months after their marriage. Lavery met Hazel again, and in 1909 he married the beautiful Irish-American who was almost thirty years his junior. They had a step-daughter, Alice Trudeau. During the First World War he, like William Orpen (from Stillorgan, Dublin) was appointed as a war artist by the British Government and he was knighted in 1918, with Hazel becoming Lady Lavery.

Irish Delegation

Irish Delegation

They lived at 5 Cromwell Place, South Kensington, a palatial residence where they entertained the great-and-the-good of British society, with Winston Churchill, Hilaire Belloc, George Bernard Shaw, Lytton Strachey and WB Yeats being regular guests. With her undoubted beauty and poise Hazel was known as the foremost hostess in London. During the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations the Laverys lent their home to the Irish delegation who they often met. To this day there are rumours of an affair between Hazel and Michael Collins but these remain unproven.

Due to his assistance and hospitality during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations the Irish Free State, in 1928, commissioned Lavery to design the artwork for the new banknotes. He painted Hazel as Caithlin ni Houlihan, the female personification of Ireland, and her image was on all notes issued until 1977.

Hazel, Lady Lavery 'On the money'

Hazel, Lady Lavery ‘On the money’

Lavery eventually returned to Ireland and lived in Rossenarra House, Kilmoganny, Co. Kilkenny where he died on 10 January 1941, aged 84. He was later interred in Putney Vale Cemetery, London where Hazel had been buried six years earlier.

Rossenarra House

Rossenarra House

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Druids Glen – A place of history

Woodstock House

Woodstock House

In the year that we are celebrating the Easter Rising I was reminded of another great struggle when I recently visited Woodstock House in Wicklow. The Pikeman statue, a tall and arresting symbol of the 1798 Rebellion and a reminder of brave and bloody times, stands guard in front of the fine Georgian house.

The Pikeman

The Pikeman

It was built by Sir John Stratford in the 1770s and was designed by the famed architect and stuccodore Robert West who worked on many of the countries great houses. It has been faithfully maintained and a visit is a veritable walk through history. In the basement there is a museum showing what it was like in the ‘big house’ and the circular gallery offers a history of Ireland. Upstairs in the Yellow Room there are some fine paintings of Irish heroes, including Michael Collins, CS Parnell and Robert Emmett.

The Hall

The Hall

The tiled hall with its tall golden columns is particularly well preserved with the Dining Room off to the side. It was interesting to find out that due to its superb acoustics that none other than Rod Stewart and the Thompson Twins each used the space for recording in the 1980s.

Nowadays the house is the centre of Druids Glen Golf Course, one of the best and most beautiful courses anywhere and a regular on the ‘must play’ list for golfers. I saw it described as the ‘Augusta of Europe’ and on the day that I visited – a warm day under a bright, blue sky – I could only agree with the scribe. From the roof the view down the coast and over to the Wicklow Mountains beyond was stunning.

And of course there is more history in the name – Druids Glen. Apparently during the construction of the golf course a Druids’ altar was discovered near the lake (by the 12th hole). I don’t know what the Druids think of golf but they would certainly have been happy with what I saw the other day. It’s a magical place!

The Druids' Altar

The Druids’ Altar

 

 

 

 

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Oliver St. John Gogarty – A man of many talents

5, Rutland Square

5, Rutland Square

Oliver St John Gogarty was a man of many talents and he was born in 5, Rutland Square (now Parnell Square) on 17th August 1878, the eldest of four children. His father, Henry, was a successful physician and his mother Margaret was from Galway. Henry died when Oliver was eight years old and he was sent to school in Mungret College in Limerick. later, he transferred to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire which he described as ‘a religious jail’. He returned to Ireland in 1896 and studied medicine at the Royal University and Trinity College, and graduated in 1907. Afterwards, he went to Vienna to finish his study and specialised in otolaryngology (Ear, Nose & Throat). His consulting rooms were in Ely Place, and he was a member of staff at the Meath Hospital until he went to America.

He was a keen sportsman and enjoyed cricket, football (he played for Bohemians FC) and a fine swimmer who saved four people from drowning. He wrote poetry and his poem Tailteann Ode won a bronze medal at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. And as a member of the Dublin literary community he was friends with the great and good, including WB Yeats, AE Russell, James Stephens and James Joyce. When Gogarty rented the Martello Tower at Sandycove in 1904 he invited Joyce to stay. Joyce, however,  stayed only a few nights but used the place as the opening scene in Ulysses and immortalised Gogarty in his character Buck Mulligan.

Martello Tower, Sandycove

Martello Tower, Sandycove

A close friend of Arthur Griffith he was an early member of Sinn Fein and became a Senator. In 1922 when Griffith died in early August he performed the autopsy, and he did the same for Michael Collins who died less than two weeks later.

Oliver St. John Gogarty

Oliver St. John Gogarty

In 1917 he and his wife Martha Duane, who was from Galway, bought Renvyle, a large house in Connemara. It was burnt down in 1923 during the Irish Civil War, subsequently rebuilt and operates to this day as Renvyle House. Gogarty had been in the USA since the start of World War II, collapsed and died on a street in New York in 1957. His body was returned to Ireland and he was  buried in Moyard, near Renvyle.

 

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Dublin Castle – Centre of power

Record Tower

Record Tower

It has played a part in Irish life for centuries and Dublin Castle had its origins back in time of the Vikings. It was originally settled on the high ground close to the Poddle and Liffey rivers and provided excellent an defence. However, with the Norman invasion in 1169 the old structure was demolished and a more permanent building was erected. King Henry II implemented this phase, which was completed in 1230 and was the beginning of the ‘Castle’ as we know it today. The Poddle was diverted underground and its water used to fill the moat that surrounded the fortress. Typical of Norman design there was a tower at each corner and the Record Tower (1228) is the only surviving one.

Over time many other buildings were added, especially in the Georgian period. The Treasury Building in the lower yard, the first purpose built office space in Dublin, was completed in 1714. In the upper yard the Bedford Tower, named for the Duke of Bedford who was then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was constructed in the 1750s. And it was from here in July 1907 that one of the most infamous events in the Castle’s history took place when the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen on the eve of the visit of King Edward VII. They have never been recovered.

Bedford Tower

Bedford Tower

As the centre of British power it was often challenged with it coming under attack during Robert Emmet’s short-lived rising in 1803 and Easter 1916. British power ceased on the 16th January 1922 when Michael Collins took possession on behalf of the new Irish Free State.

Sandman Sam

Sandman Sam

An exhibition of sand statues is now held every August in the upper yard. It has become a favourite with locals and tourists alike, with different characters and themes being addressed. While taking a photograph of Samuel Beckett a man beside me commented that ‘Becket was not only a sound man, but now he was a sand man, too.’ The striking image of the ‘Feet of Sand’ seemed very appropriate in a place with such sensitive political overtones.

Feet of Sand

Feet of Sand

Also in the upper yard are the State Rooms which were originally constructed for the Lord Lieutenant’s personal accommodation and entertainment. Nowadays, these lavishly furnished rooms – St Patrick’s Hall, Throne Room, State Drawing Room and State Corridor – are used for Government engagements including the inauguration of Presidents and State visit ceremonies.

St Patrick's Hall

St Patrick’s Hall

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Hazel – Lady Lavery

Helen of Troy may have had the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’ but Hazel Lavery’s launched a billion pounds!

Hazel - Lady Lavery

Hazel – Lady Lavery

Hazel Lavery (nee Martyn) was born on 14th March 1880 in Chicago to Edward Martyn, a wealthy industrialist of Anglo-Irish extraction. She was known as ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the Midwest’ but decided to leave and went to London in the early 1900s. She married a doctor, Edward Trudeau in 1903, but he died after only five months. By then she had met John Lavery, and they married in 1909. He was the most sought-after artist in London and was appointed the official artist to the British Government during World War I. When he was knighted in 1918 Hazel became Lady Lavery.

As Sir John Lavery was the portrait artist of choice for the ‘great and good’ in London, Hazel met and corresponded with many famous people like George Bernard Shaw, the historian Hilaire Belloc and Lytton Strachey, a founding member of the Bloomsday Group. During the Anglo-Irish treaty negotiations in 1922 their grand house on Cromwell Parade, South Kensington, was used by the Irish delegation. Hazel was very much the society hostess and entertained her guests that included Michael Collins and Kevin O’Higgins. At the time there was much gossip and speculation about her relationship with these men, but her correspondence does not confirm anything.

Lady Lavery by Sir John Lavery

Lady Lavery by Sir John Lavery

After the Treaty was signed Sir John Lavery was asked to design an image for the new Irish Banknotes that represented the female personification of Ireland. This looked back to Irish mythology and had been previously represented by Mangan’s Dark Rosaleen and WB Yeats’ Cathleen Ni Houlihan. Hazel’s image was adopted and reproduced on banknotes from 1928 until the mid-1970s. And that’s an awful lot of banknotes (and money).

Lady Lavery - on the money!

Lady Lavery – on the money!

 

 

 

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Collins Barracks – steeped in history

Collins Barracks has a unique distinction that is little known. For three centuries it housed both British and then Irish forces making it the oldest, continuously occupied barracks in the world. It was handed over in December 1922 to Irish Free State troops, led by General Richard Mulcahy, who immediately renamed it Collins Barracks, after Michael Collins the first-commander-in-chief of the Free State who had been killed on 22nd August in County Cork.

Museum Entrance

Museum Entrance

The Barracks were designed by Thomas Burgh, Queen Anne’s Surveyor General in Ireland, and are neo-classical in style. (Burgh was a very successful architect having also designed the Trinity College Library, Dr Steevens’ Hospital and St Werbugh’s Church.) Typically, the original work was added to over the time of its occupation with significant extensions added in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The site had been cleared for a large mansion for the Duke of Ormond, and it has several big squares, with Clarke’s Square the biggest.
After the place was de-militarised in 1997, when the 5th Battalion marched out for the last time, extensive renovation work was undertaken before it was open to the public as part of the National Museum of Ireland. In fact, the work carried out in Clarke’s Square won the state’s highest award for architectural conservation, the Silver Medal for Conservation.

Clarke Square

Clarke Square

When the government decided in 1988 to vacate the barracks as a military facility, plans were drawn up for an alternate use. Eventually it became the Museum of Decorative Arts and History and was opened by Sile deValera, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, on the 18th September 1997. It is a big building and there is much to see, as there are many permanent exhibitions; namely The Asgard, Eileen Grey, The Way We Wore, Irish Silver and The Easter Rising – Understanding 1916 to name but a few. And, of course, there are temporary exhibitions and shows, which are very popular, as is the café on Clarke’s Square. Check it out.

Front Entrance

Front Entrance

 

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Mansion House – at the centre of city life

Nighttime view

Nighttime view

In a few short years the Open House Weekend has become something of a favourite with Dubliners and tourists alike. The fact that we can gain access to buildings, houses and offices that are normally off-limits to the general public, is a great reason to get out and about and enjoy the ‘search’. Everywhere I went people studied maps, pointed this way and that and happily queued, cameras at the ready to snap a piece of history. There was, inevitably, lots of talk and much advice on offer as to which places to visit.

Sumptous interior

Sumptuous interior

The Mansion House is a place that I always wanted to see having,  like so many other Dubliners, passed it on countless occasions. It is, of course, the residence of Dublin’s  first citizen, the Lord Mayor, and it is one of the city’s most loved buildings with stunningly beautiful rooms. It is, in fact, the oldest free-standing house in Dublin and the only Mayoral residence in Ireland which is still used for its original purpose. And, it is the oldest Mayoral residence in Ireland or Britain as it provided an official residence  for its mayor fifteen years before London did! It was surprising to find out that in the 1930s and 1940s there were plans to demolish the place and other buildings on the block, but thankfully they were abandoned.

The guide, a former Lord Mayor, really knew the history of the building and made the whole experience memorable. It was built by Joshua Dawson (who built many of the buildings on Dawson Street & Nassau Street) in 1705 as his city residence. However, he seldom lived there and sold it to Dublin Corporation in 1715 for £3,500, and an annual rent of 40 shillings and an agreement to provide a loaf of double-refined sugar weighing 6 pounds, at Christmas!  He agreed to add a formal reception room which we now call the Oak Room. In here are the crests of all the previous Lord Mayors with Daniel O’Connell’s (1841) being the first. The distinctive metal portico over the front door was erected for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1900. And the Rotunda, or ‘Round Room’, was added for the visit of George IV in 1821, as there was no room in the city grand enough for him. Ironically, it was in this same space that the First Dáil assembled on 21st January 1919 and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence.

The Mansion House has been at the centre of the city’s history for 299 years, and next year will be a special one even for this historic building.

Mansion House in the sunshine

Mansion House in the sunshine

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