John Lavery (1856-1941, born North Belfast, Catholic) is perhaps the most classic pick for Ireland’s greatest artist, though he is not my personal pick. He did, however, create many of Ireland’s most beloved and I would say most typical paintings. It is difficult to keep him out of your top three. Although he moved to Scotland as a child, and then to England, his works captured the Ireland of the period very well. He also was tangentially involved in Irish politics, mostly as an intermediary and negotiator, and he died in Ireland while escaping the Blitz, thereby cementing his Irish credentials just a wee bit.
Consider this work, in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, a portrait of his own wife sketching, more luminous when you see it live:
He was born on St. Patrick’s Day, ended up an orphan, and his wife Hazel later taught Winston Churchill how to paint. John Lavery painted his Hazel — actually born an American — onto Irish currency notes, where she remained for fifty years until the advent of the euro. It was widely rumored that Michael Collins was the love of her life, and that she had affairs.
Top paintings by Lavery might auction for about one million pounds, much cheaper than say a Warhol. Is that a form of aesthetic arbitrage? Or are you just paying less for a less important and also less liquid asset, appreciated by many fewer people?
Does a Lavery look good in your Miami Beach contemporary home? Does it get you dates? But doesn’t he represent a whole country? How did he do that by spending so little time there? That too is part of the magic of art.