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Details & Cataloguing

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns

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London

Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A., R.S.A.
1856-1941
MRS. FRANK JOSEPH FAHEY
signed l.l.: J. Lavery; also titled, signed, inscribed BOSTON and dated 1926 on the reverse
oil on canvas
102.5 by 77cm., 40¼ by 30¼in.
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Provenance

Sotheby's, London, 16 May 2002, lot 152

Literature

Kenneth McConkey, John Lavery, A Painter and his World, 2010 (Atelier Books), p.239 (note 107)

Catalogue Note

In 1925, the wealthy art dealer, Joseph Duveen, presented Lavery with an important opportunity. He would transport the contents of the painter’s current exhibition of ‘portrait interiors’, along with other pictures to New York for a solo exhibition at his gallery on Fifth Avenue.1 The artist and his American wife, Hazel, would attend the opening in November and by the time of his arrival, a number of portrait commissions would be arranged with prominent Duveen clients. As the plan developed, an exhibition tour was arranged that included Boston, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and such was the volume of projects offered to the painter, that when he finally returned to London in March 1926, a second visit was arranged for later that year. It was in Boston, while his exhibition was on view at the Robert C. Vose Galleries, over the New Year, that the present portrait of Frank Joseph Fahey’s wife was painted.

Mrs Fahey (née Florence Alice Meyer of Lowell, Massachusetts), married her husband in 1917. At that point he was forty-three and had become Vice-President and Treasurer of the Gillette Safety Razor Company, based in Boston, and America was entering the Great War. Having risen through the ranks in the cotton trade, Fahey joined Gillette in 1908 and oversaw its massive expansion, securing contracts with the US Army, and increasing production. Soldiers returning from the Western Front were all convinced of the efficacy of the ‘safety razor’ and with a series of innovative promotional and sponsorship campaigns, the death-knell for the old ‘open’ or ‘cut-throat’ razor was tolled. Such was Fahey’s prominence as a business leader at the time of his wife’s portrait that he sat on the board of the First National Bank of Boston and was a director of the Old Colony Trust.2

For Fahey, Lavery’s portrait was thus an important way to underwrite his wife’s social distinction in a Boston dominated by the ‘Boston Brahmins’ of the ‘Watch and Ward Society’. Being of Irish and German descent, the Faheys were outside this select group and witnessed the current challenges to its authority. Clearly, a painter of Lavery’s international stature would confirm that they had arrived. In the present instance, format and handling aligns the picture with other contemporary portraits. In Boston for instance, he also produced the smaller portraits of Mrs JF Maguire, Julia Maguire, Harriet Taft Hayward and Mary Elizabeth Hayward, all of which are half-lengths. As in these cases, Florence Alice Fahey addresses the viewer directly, and without the seductive swagger of a Sargent. Herein lies both the picture’s appeal, and indeed, its essential modernity.

Professor Kenneth McConkey

1 K. McConkey, op. cit., 2010, pp.169-174.

John H. Ingham, Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders, vol. 1, A-G, 1983 (Greenwood Press), pp.357-9.

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns

|
London