From the mid-1880s, planning a figure composition on a small scale before transferring it to canvas, was Lavery's standard practice. Many of these small panel and canvasboard oil sketches are prized for their sense of informality and experimentation. They reveal a painter thinking aloud - as it were.
A family legend identifies the Lady in Blue and White as Lavery's first wife, Kathleen MacDermott, mother of Eileen, his only child. Eileen's sad poem, written in childhood, regretting her mother's loss, has been appended to the reverse of the present work. However, Kathleen, whose real identity long remained obscure, died of tuberculosis on 1 November 1891, within a few months of Eileen's birth, and there are only two known portraits of her. These show a young woman with prominent cheek-bones and a square, angular face, unlike the Lady in Blue and White. At the time of Kathleen's death, Lavery tended to employ rosewood panels rather than canvasboard for small 14 x 10 inch sketches. Use of a canvasboard support at that point would be unusual. Additionally, the present young woman wears a picture hat with generous plumage, more typical of the early years of the twentieth century and similar in size to that worn by Mary Auras in A Lady in White, circa 1902 (Manchester City Art Gallery). This small study in which the sitter wears a white blouse with pale blue at the collar, is similar in size to the present work. Taking these factors into consideration, it is logical to suggest a later date for the present work, and the possibility that this young woman in blue and white might well be Mary. Although Fraulein Auras had very little English when they met, she quickly became a close friend and travelling companion to the teenage Eileen.
We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for providing this catalogue entry.