The success of Lavery’s first visit resulted in a second invitation in the autumn of 1891, when he returned to Glencarron to paint a larger portrait, Katherine and Esther McLaren, the Daughters of Lord McLaren, which was the most prominent piece exhibited by Lavery at the Royal Academy in 1892. Katherine McLaren’s portrait marks the start of Lord McLaren’s patronage of Lavery. During Lord McLaren’s successful career, in which he was a lawyer, Scottish Liberal MP, and Lord Advocate of Edinburgh, Lavery painted his portrait twice, one of which now hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. During his acquaintance with the family Lavery also painted at least three portraits of Katharine’s younger sister, Esther.
The present work was painted two years before Katherine’s marriage to her cousin Frederick Scott Oliver in 1893. Oliver achieved financial success through his role as a partner in the linen drapery firm Debenham and Freebody, now the Debenhams retail chain, and the couple lived comfortably at Edgerson estate in Roxboroughshire from 1915 until Oliver’s death. In later life Oliver turned to writing about political topics, producing works such as The Endless Adventure, published in three volumes from 1930-1935. Katherine’s son inherited his grandfather’s appreciation of art. He became an art dealer after having studied painting in Paris and under the instruction of Walter Sickert.
Before Lord McLaren, Lavery’s patrons came largely from the West of Scotland due to his participation in a group known as ‘The Glasgow Boys’. Lord McLaren may have chosen Lavery in preference to painters from the respected Royal Scottish Academy owing to its President Sir George Reid’s rejection of Impressionism. Katherine McLaren’s portrait is strongly impressionistic, demonstrating Lavery’s ability to portray the essence of a scene. Lavery was drawn towards an ‘exploration of the aesthetic value of the sketch’ (exh.cat., Sir John Lavery R. A. 1856-1941, Belfast, 1984, p.7). The lively brushwork in Lavery’s portrait of Katharine McLaren exemplifies his fascination with recording an initial impression and gives the portrait an engagingly unstudied appearance.
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