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Belfast artist John Lavery's work sells for almost £1m

By Dick Barton

Published 23/11/2016

Sir John Lavery’s ‘Golf Links, North Berwick’ was auctioned at Sotheby’sing
Sir John Lavery’s ‘Golf Links, North Berwick’ was auctioned at Sotheby’sing
Sir John Lavery

A 1920s oil painting by one of Northern Ireland's greatest painters has sold for nearly £1m.

The work by Sir John Lavery fetched nearly double the sum expected at Sotheby's in London.

Before the auction the 1921 picture titled 'The Golf Links, North Berwick' featuring Lavery's wife Hazel and step-daughter Alice, had been expected to sell for between £300,000 and £500,000.

But it eventually went under the hammer for £872,500.

Sotheby's would not reveal the name of the buyer, but confirmed the picture was bought by "a private collector".

The current world auction record for a work by Lavery is £1,321,500, which was paid at Christie's in London in December 1998 for his 1883 oil painting, The Bridge At Grez.

This year marks the 160th anniversary of Lavery's birth in Belfast.

His father, Henry Lavery, ran a pub in North Queen Street. But he tragically died in 1859, when the ship on which he was travelling to America sank off the Irish coast with the loss of 386 lives.

Sir John's mother, Mary, died shortly afterwards. He and his sister Jane were left orphans, brought up by relatives.

Despite this difficult start, Lavery went on to become one of the finest artists Belfast has produced. He was knighted in 1918 and, three years later, in March 1921, his importance as an artist was officially confirmed when he became the first Belfast-born painter to be elected to the Royal Academy in London.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Lavery and his wife Hazel were supporters of Irish home rule.

It states: "After the establishment of the Irish Free State they spent much time in Dublin, although Lavery never denied or neglected his roots in Belfast: he presented large groups of his paintings to both cities.

"Hazel Lavery became one of the great society hostesses of her day: the friend, confidante and occasionally lover to many powerful social and political figures."

It adds: "Her close friendship with Michael Collins was crucial in his negotiations with the British Government over the future of the Irish Free State in 1920-1921."

Lavery paintings owned by the Ulster Museum include portraits of Viscount Craigavon, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, the seventh Marquess of Londonderry and Hugh O'Neill, first Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament.

In his biography of Lavery, Kenneth McConkey says: "After the International Exhibition in Glasgow in 1888, Lavery took on commissions as a portraitist and 'visual reporter'."

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