The woman behind the image is revealed by Sheila O’Kelly


Lady Hazel Lavery was born in Chicago on the 14th March, 1880 to Edward and Alice Martyn. Hazel was a sixth-generation Irish American descended from a branch of the Martyn family in Galway. She was educated in a finishing school in Chicago – finishing schools were schools created for the sole purpose to teach people social graces and upper-class cultural rituals.

Hazel became well-known in high society circles in Chicago. Her stunning good looks, confidence and exuberance attracted many male suitors. She was a talented painter and travelled frequently to Europe to pursue her artistic studies.

In 1903, Hazel first met John Lavery, a portrait painter from Belfast, at an artists’ retreat in Brittany in France. John was twenty-fours older than her. A romance blossomed between them. Hazel’s mother disapproved of the romance. She felt John was too old for her daughter.

Hazel returned to Chicago and later married Edward Livingston Trudeau Jr. They were married only five months when Edward, a physician, died from Tuberculosis. Hazel was expecting their first child and their daughter, Alice, was born in October 1904.

In 1905, Hazel and her mother travelled to Britain and stayed at a Spa in the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. Hazel met John Lavery again. John, an established painter both in Britain and Internationally, painted one of his earliest portraits of Hazel, La Dame en Noir (The Lady in Black).

Hazel’s mother refused the relationship to take place. John and Hazel were married in 1910, a year after her mother’s death. They resided at John’s spacious and luxurious home at 5, Cromwell Place, South Kensington. They had no children together. Hazel took on the role of a London society hostess.

Their wide circle of friends included politicians, writers and theatre-goers. Hazel became a close confidante of many notable men including Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw and W.B. Yeats.
The Laverys made their first visit to Ireland in 1913 to Lord and Lady Kenmare in Killarney House in Kerry. In 1916, John Lavery was commissioned to paint the trial of Sir Roger Casement. Hazel attended the trial and the Laverys were introduced to prominent Irish political figures.

When John received a knighthood for his work as a war artist in 1918, Hazel became Lady Lavery. The Laverys became more involved in Irish politics. They decided to use their social and political contacts to reconcile Ireland and Britain. They opened their home to Irish and British politicians for the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations (Oct-Dec 1921).

They felt their home would be a suitable neutral place where politicians on both sides could meet informally. As a result, the Laverys came to know high profile leading figures of the Irish Independence campaign including John Redmond, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins.

Hazel became a mediator for correspondence between Michael Collins and British politicians. After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, Hazel maintained her position as a mediator for members of the newly formed Irish Free State government and the British government until 1927.

In the same year, a commission was set up to design the new Free State currency. They decided to have an Irish cailín, symbolic of the mythical Cathleen Ni Houlihan figure as depicted in the one-act play by W.B. Yeats, on the new Irish banknotes. John Lavery was invited to create an image of a female personification of Ireland.

His painting, titled ‘Killarney’ was accepted. It depicted Hazel in an Irish shawl facing left, her arm resting on an Irish Harp with a landscape of lakes and mountains in the background. On the first series of the new banknotes issued on the 10th September, 1928, Hazel is depicted facing right, because it had been decided to place her portrait on the left hand side of the notes. Hazel died in Britain on the 1st January 1935 age 55, and is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in England.

Hazel is mentioned in verse three in W.B. Yeats poem, ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’ written in 1937. The poet recalls his visit to the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, currently the Hugh Lane Gallery, and remarks on the people painted on the walls.

Hazel’s image remained on Irish banknotes until the mid-1970s. Her image remained as a watermark until the introduction of the new Euro notes in 2002. Her role as a mediator for correspondence between Irish and British politicians has an important place in Irish history. ÷

Read stories like these every week in Ireland’s Own