Born in Belfast, Lavery was orphaned at three (father was shipwrecked), raised in County Down, dispatched to a Saltcoats pawn shop, ran away from home at the age of 15 and was homeless in Glasgow for a while before being returned to Salcoats then back to Moira, Co. Down.
He was as an apprentice re-toucher to the Glasgow Herald photographer and enrolled at the Haldane Academy (Glasgow School of Art), all by the age of 17. Insurance for a studio fire gave him the funds to study at the Académie Julian in Paris in the early 1880s, being influenced in particular by Bastien-Lepage.
Anyone for Tennis ?
When he returned from France at the end of 1884, he re-established his studio in Glasgow, painting ‘The Tennis Party’ which was exhibited in London and Edinburgh, before winning a gold medal at the Paris Salon. He had become one of the famous group of painters known as the Glasgow Boys.
The Tennis Party
It depicts Cartbank tennis courts in Cathcart in the south of Glasgow and includes fellow Glasgow Boys artists Arthur Melvile, EA Walton and James Guthrie.
This is also Cartbank with members of the MacBride family. The artist Alexander MacBride recalled posing with his sister Elizabeth and a cousin also being there.
Idyllic Paisley, life in the Enchanted Glen
Although working in Glasgow, he was living in nearby Paisley, very possibly commuting from nearby Potterhill Station which opened in 1886. He stayed in the picturesque grounds of The Glen mansion at the foot of the Gleniffer Braes in what became known as Lavery Cottage, now Glen Park (entrance on Glenfield Road).
One of the players is Nina Fullerton* of Crossflat House (behind the Grammar School) . The illustrious guests included Mrs MacKean the provost’s wife, Mrs Clark and Mrs Coats of the two great Paisley thread families who are said to have sat for Lavery along with their daughters.
The owner of The Glen James Fulton asked for portraits of his daughters, Alice and Eva.
Provost Mackean’s connections opened doors for Lavery, including those of Windsor Castle, when he secured a sitting from Queen Victoria in 1889 and the commission below. Such was the power and influence of Victorian Paisley.