Lavery rose to prominence as a painter of society portraits and contemporary scenes during the Glasgow International Festival of 1888. His determination to paint led him from his native Ireland to Glasgow where he tinted photographs to finance his art classes. He studied in London and Paris, returning to Glasgow in 1885. Lavery befriended the artists known as the Glasgow Boys, with whom he shared an interest in subjects from modern life. He enjoyed great success after his move to London in 1896, where he combined his talents as a portrait painter with an interest in contemporary events. Lavery was knighted in 1918.