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Monday, June 20, 2011

Eileen Lavery - Not Lady Heath!

Think I have finally sorted out the mystery of this painting, after another query. The painting, called "The First Irish Pilot"  is of Lavery's daughter Eileen who was married to the Master of Sempill, he a pilot since often his enthusiast passenger (see "Sir John Lavery" by Kenneth McConkey,  page 162). Another painting "'The First Flight to Dublin" also dates from this period (1926); the Irish Free State had bought five planes from the British and one of these was flown to Dublin by the Sempills. Sir John made a quick sketch of the five planes in England before they took off.
The Lavery portrait of  Lady Mary shows her in her ambulance driver's uniform standing beside a car. It was painted by Lavery when he was on war artist duties in France and remains in the house of a distant relative in Co Limerick.

From the Hugh Lane Art Gallery Website.


John Lavery

An Irish Pilot
This wonderful painting by one of Ireland’s best loved portrait painters John Lavery features the fascinating Lady Heath, born Sophie Pierce Evans in Limerick. For a five-year period from the mid-1920s, pilot Lady Mary Heath was one of the best-known women in the world. It was an era when everyone had gone aviation mad, she was the first woman to parachute and the first woman to gain a commercial pilot’s licence. In 1928 Lady Heath made front-page news worldwide as the first pilot ever, male or female, to fly a small, open cockpit plane solo from Cape Town to London. Back home in Ireland in the 1930s, she was reputed to have landed her plane on every flat field in the country.
This fine portrait is in good condition, but its valuable, ornate frame is suffering from extensive flaking of the gilding. This requires urgent attention from a gilding conservator before it can be displayed. Intriguingly, the portrait appears to have been painted over a different composition and we hope to investigate this fascinating possibility by x-raying the painting.
Conservation costs €3000

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