In 1880 John Lavery faced an uncertain future. He had attended early morning and evening classes at the Haldane Academy in Glasgow, and with one or two picture sales had sought his fortune in London. But this venture had not been successful and with no family to support his efforts had returned to Scotland. He now realised that knowing the taste of the public was essential if he was to make his way as an artist.
Costume-pieces - small, inexpensive paintings on popular literary themes, often sentimental in nature, and featuring young women in Regency or Renaissance finery, in subjects taken from Goethe’s Faust and the novels of Walter Scott - would support him while he developed his craft and acquired a reputation. It was a precarious existence. During these years Lavery lodged cheaply in Buccleuch Street, Paisley, while retaining a small studio in Glasgow. Even after his removal to Paris in November 1881, he would continue to show such works. In the present instance the girl’s dress, and probably the model, are those in A Conquest, A Heart for a Rose, 1882 (Glasgow Museums) – the picture which typifies this period.
This rediscovery of Waiting is of special significance in that it is likely to be one of Lavery’s earliest exhibited works, shown at the Paisley Art Institute. We may even surmise that the young woman in the picture was modelled by ‘Georgina’, one of the assistants who caught his eye when he was working for MacNair, the Glasgow photographer, in the late 1870s. However in the absence of contemporary illustrations, the issue is complicated by the fact that formerly it was thought that the picture, also entitled Waiting and housed in Renfrew Museums and Galleries, was that exhibited in 1881. The Renfrew painting, of similar size to the present example, was originally owned by Lavery’s early patron, John Eadie, of Eadie Brothers, makers of ‘ring travellers’ for the yarn industry, and one of the town’s leading manufacturers. It was presented to the Art Institute around 1914. Although we cannot be conclusive, the appeal of this present work seems more universal and its glen-side setting more romantic.
By the time the Institute’s exhibition opened at the end of 1881, the painter was already in France and embarking on a new phase of his artistic training. While his work would develop rapidly during subsequent years, from Waiting and similar small beginnings, a great career would blossom.