Mrs Geoffrey Birkbeck, 1905

by Sir John Lavery


DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 31.9 x 25.6 inches (81 x 65 cm)
SIGNATURE: Signed (lower left);
Titled, signed, dated, and inscribed with artist’s address (verso)
MEDIUM: Oil on canvas


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    Dora Ethel Birkbeck (originally Dora Ethel Wilson) married Geoffrey Birkbeck, an artist himself specialising in watercolours, in July 1904. The circumstances through which the opportunity arose to commission Dora’s portrait from Lavery is uncertain, but the sittings most likely occurred prior to the birth of the couple’s child, Theodora Clare Birkbeck, in 1905. This resultant portrait is captivating and full of character, as the sitter is positioned away from our view but looks back over her shoulder towards us with the subtlest of smiles and shrewd, piercing eyes.

    The sitter and thence by descent to her son, Edmund J Birkbeck,
    Private Collection, United Kingdom (1984 -)

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    The name Sir John Lavery is immediately associated with the Edwardian elegance, the roaring twenties, scandal and the struggle for Irish independence of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He completed portraits of high society individuals, including George V, Winston Churchill and Michael Collins.

    Lavery’s first success came with the showing of his Tennis Party at the Royal Academy, London, in 1886. Two years later, in 1888, he received a commission to paint the state visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow
    Exhibition, providing him with the social connections for valuable commissions for the next fifty years. His career from then on
    was one of uninterrupted success.

    When World War I broke out Lavery began recording scenes at military camps, naval bases and munitions factories. He was appointed Official War Artist in 1917, assigned to the Royal Navy. At the end of the war
    Lavery became involved in Irish affairs, painting his friend, Michael Collins, the negotiator of the Irish Treaty, on his deathbed.

    Lavery was knighted in 1918, elected member of the RA 1921; he was also a member of the RHA, Royal Scottish Academy, and the academies of Rome, Antwerp, Milan, Brussels, and Stockholm. Funnily enough, his work was favoured in Paris, Rome and Berlin rather than in his native London – two of his paintings were acquired for the Louvre. He published his autobiography, The Life of a Painter in 1940, one year before his death.

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