John Lavery, Irish, 1856-1941
Title: Her First Communion
Date: 1902
Medium: Oil on canvas
181 x 89 cm
Signed: lower right: JLavery
Credit Line: Purchased, with the support of the Friends of the National Gallery of Ireland, 2018 (part Dargan Fund)
Object Number: NGI.2018.35
DescriptionBy 1902, when Lavery submitted this painting to the Paris Salon, he held the unusual distinction among Irish artists of commanding a truly international reputation. He had received honours from major European and North-American academies and was represented in many significant public collections. Oddly, perhaps, Britain, where he had grown up, and Ireland, where he was born, had been relatively slow to acknowledge his outstanding talent. This painting proved a catalyst for change in that regard. Having appeared at the Biennale in Venice in 1903, it was shown in London at the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, of which James MacNeill Whistler was President and Lavery his deputy. Lavery would go on to become one of Europe's most celebrated portraitists, and a key figure in artistic, social and political circles in London, and beyond. This full-length portrait of the artist's daughter Eileen boasts an impeccable exhibition record and provenance. Shown at, among other venues, the Paris Salon, Venice Biennale, and Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, the portrait passed to the artist’s granddaughter, Ann Moira Forbes-Sempill, later Lady Sempill, and has remained in the family ever since. The picture, arguably Lavery’s most Whistlerian composition, shows Eileen, aged nine, in her Communion dress. Though it owes a debt to several pictorial sources, among them works by Velázquez and Courbet, the picture recalls most strikingly Whistler's Harmony in Grey and Green, Miss Cicely Alexander of 1872 (Tate, London). It also corresponds to a renewed interest in Catholic subject matter that had emerged among artists working in provincial France over the previous three decades. The motif of the communicant, in particular, recurred in the work of many artist-visitors to Brittany.
ProvenanceThe artist's grandaughter and by descent; purchased, 2018
Exhibition HistorySalon (Société Nationale de Beaux Arts), Paris, 1902, no. 704 as Première Communiante

Venice Biennale, 1903

International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, 1904

Sixteenth International Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1912

Paintings by John Lavery, Chicago Art Institute, 1912, no.20

Retrospective Exhibition of the Works of John Lavery, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1914, no 38

Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Sir John Lavery, City Art Gallery, Belfast, 1951, no 6

Sir John Lavery, RA, 1856 - 1941, Spink, London, 1971, no. 67

Sir John Lavery, RA, Edinburgh, London, Belfast and Dublin, 1984-5, no. 55