Completed British 20th C, except portraits, Northern Ireland: Artists and Subjects 33 Further information sought on the artist J. Lawson (active 1980s)

Bank at Punchestown
Topic: Artist

Does anyone know anything about the artist J. Lawson? There are thirty-four of their paintings at Sentry Hill, Newtownabbey, but very little, if anything, known of this artist.

Alison Mitchelson, Northern Ireland: Artists and Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Jade King,

The artist record 'John A. Lawson (active 1980s)' has been improved: we now know the artist to be John Andrew Lawson (b.1951).

The PCF's copyright team will contact Mr Lawson.

This amend will appear on the new version of the Your Paintings website in January 2016. Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.

32 comments

Jade King,

A possible candidate could be John A. Lawson, an artist with one undated work in the Northern Ireland Civil Service collection which was purchased in 1988: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/the-waiting-game-228020

It seems the ‘Lawson’ signature on the John A. Lawson painting and the ‘Lawson’ signatures on the J. Lawson works at Newtownabbey Borough Council are reasonably similar – would anyone agree? If so, does anybody know anything about ‘John A. Lawson’? I will ask the Northern Ireland Civil Service if they have any further details on John A. Lawson…

Our copyright officers have searched for the copyright holders of both J. Lawson and John A. Lawson, but have so far been unsuccessful.

The style is also very similar in the Northern Ireland Civil Service painting, so I think you may be correct that this is the same artists? It would be good if some more information about him was discovered especially given that there are over thirty examples of his work in the Newtownabbey Borough Council collection at Sentry Hill.

Osmund Bullock,

I feel I should point out that many of the Newtonabbey Lawsons are poorly or incorrectly captioned on Your Paintings, particularly those showing birds. In some cases they've been confused with others in the collection, while others are just ornithologically deficient! I'll deal with it in the next couple of days unless someone else cares to...

I agree that the two Lawsons are almost certainly the same man. There is another trout-fishing one of very similar style in the Sentry Hill collection, very probably featuring the same Antrim river. But I've failed utterly to find any mention of him elsewhere. I have a suspicion that he may have used photography in his painting process.

R. Stephens,

It might be worth calling the painter and illustrator John Lawson on 07768 050873 and asking him if he is the artist of these pictures. He certainly does horses and sporting subjects.

Jade King,

Thanks Richard.

Our Copyright Manager called John Lawson (his website is http://www.yewtreegallery.net/about.html) – unfortunately he is not the J. Lawson/John A. Lawson we are looking for, but said he liked the paintings! This John Lawson only started painting in 2004.

It was worth a try...

Osmund Bullock,

Right, re the Newtonabbey captions on Your Paintings, the two pairs reversed are:
(1) "Moorland Scene with Grouse" & "Slemish View" (Slemish is an isolated mountain near Ballymena).
(2) "Snipe Nesting in Grassland" & "Seabird on a Nest" (In fact we can be more specific about the bird - it is a Tern (probably an Arctic Tern).

Other incorrect or poor captions are:
(3) "Bird Nesting in Branches above Water" (not by Lawson) is in fact a Woodock nesting (or sitting) on snow-covered ground.
(4) "Brown Bird Nesting in Branches" is again a Woodcock on the ground.
(5) "White, Black-Headed Bird" is in fact a nesting Black-headed Gull (summer plumage).
(6) Finally, "Huntsmen with Dogs" is not really incorrect per se - but the canines used in (fox) hunting are always, ALWAYS referred to as 'hounds' not 'dogs'!

Can we pass all that on to Newtonabbey?

Jade King,

Thanks for the title comments, Osmund. I will email the collection separately about these so we can keep this discussion clear for comments regarding J. Lawson/John A. Lawson.

Jade King,

Thanks Alison. I have written to Northern Ireland Civil Service with regards to their John A. Lawson painting. From comparing signatures and styles, it seems very certain that J. Lawson and John A. Lawson are the same person, but I would like to check if NICS have any further information about this artist or their painting (e.g. acquisition records). I will report back any response from NICS.

Osmund Bullock,

I have attempted to find him genealogically, but in the UK & Ireland post-1980s resources are very limited (for data protection reasons). There are a number of possible John Lawsons in the records of births, marriages and deaths, and a couple of J A Lawsons in 1970s phone directories - but without any idea even of his age I've been unable to pin him down.

Jade King,

Since the Your Paintings website will soon undergo one of its quarterly updates, I am going to merge the artist records of John A. Lawson and J. Lawson in the PCF database. (This correction will appear on the live Your Paintings site in late November.) I have not yet had a response from Northern Ireland Civil Service to my enquiry for more info regarding John A. Lawson.

Alison, do you think this discussion should be kept open? Any more information regarding John A. Lawson it would still be welcome, such as his middle name or birth/death dates – such details may lead us to a rights holder. Though a new discussion could be made if any new information comes to light after this one is closed.

Andrea Kollmann,

Osmund noted several weeks ago that J. Lawson may have used photography in his painting process, the attachment shows proof for that.

The boy on the donkey is the late Joe Dundee, the last owner of Sentry Hill.

Several of J. Lawsons paintings on 'Your paintings' seem to commemorate places or animals which had some meaning for Mr. Dundee.
Fairymount for example was the first home of his grandfather M.F. McKinney. Joe Dundee was presented with a horse called Ginger in 1924 (there is also a painting of it); http://www.sentryhill.net/index.php?do=album/grandchildren/joe-biog

But unfortunately, I have also not found any trace of the artist himself.

1 attachment
Tim Williams,

As Andrea points out - the artist was evidently a friend of Joe Dundee. There must be a few people still alive who knew Dundee well enough to have met the artist or at least asked about the pictures?

The only other avenue I see is asking in racing circles - Jockey Club, racecourses in NI, etc. Maybe even the society of equestrian artists. Sporting artists don't tend to move in art circles, but the circles of their subject.

It's also not unusual to find an artist's name and address on the reverse, especially in the 1980s when those little gold address labels were in fairly common use.

Jade King,

Newtownabbey Borough Council got in touch via email:

"Hi Jade,

Unfortunately we don’t have any notes or files regarding Lawson. Apparently he was originally from Parkgate which is about 4 miles from Sentry Hill. The paintings were donated to the Council by the sons of the last owner of Sentry Hill as part of the handing over of the whole site.

The last owner, Joe Dundee, had a great interest in horses, hunting and nature and was very involved with the East Antrim Hounds.

Regards

Sam"

J Tredwell,

I have a photo chrome print called ' a chip off the old block' , the painting is of a boy sitting on or between the legs of an elder who is helping to hold a telescope that the boy is looking through. The painting has been signed by J LaWSON using the lower case letter 'a' (although the letters WS and O could be lower case or capitals, the N is capital style).
The print is in an old frame with a mount embossed by Raphael Tuck & Sons, the date stamp of the frame label is 1908 which puts this J Lawson much earlier, I also can find nothing about this artist.

Trevor Lloyd,

I lived outside Parkgate from the early eighties, and got to know John Lawson. At that time he was an artist - painting pictures of horses and dogs. I believe at that time he was head of the Art Department in Antrim Grammar School, but sometime afterwards left that job to concentrate fulltime on painting. I have two lovely oil paintings he did for me 'Well Strung Out' (horses at a point to point race) and

Trevor, this indeed sounds like the J Lawson we are looking for, as the subject matter and dates seems to match. The Antrim link also seems plausible. I wonder if the school may know more about him. Thank you for this lead.

James Mullin,

B met John Lawson in mid 80's and he had been painting various pictures for Sentry Hill. As far as I remember, he moved to Northern Europe, perhaps Sweden. I also recall that he may have been a nephew of Basil Blackshaw the well know artist.

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks for that, James. I was going to try and be clever by doing the genealogy, and working out which John Lawson was related to Basil Blackshaw (born Co Antrim 1932, according to his biogs). But apart from the problem that Northern Ireland's GRO is quite separate, and you have to pay even to access the index, it appears that no birth was registered for anyone called 'Blackshaw' (let alone Basil) in NI between 1920 & 1940!

Perhaps Antrim Grammar School would be prepared to reveal his year of birth from their records - that's really all we want. But I suspect we'd fall foul of the dreaded Data Protection Act (though in reality probably covered by several exemptions). Alternatively we could try and contact Basil Blackshaw via the Royal Ulster Academy.

Osmund Bullock,

I've found him! John Lawson went to Finland, not Sweden - I've tracked down his son, Kristoffer, in Helsinki**, and have just emailed him. He has a selection of his dad's pictures uploaded online here: http://people.fishpool.fi/~setok/JohnLawson/

Tracking things further still, it looks like John L has now moved from Finland to South Africa.

(**Actually Kristoffer L seems to be in Kazakhstan right now, so it may be a while before we get a response...)

James and Osmund, this is a great piece of "art detective" work, thank you. I was just about to suggest going down the Basil Blackshaw trail, but you beat me to it with an even better result! Seems an unusual journey our J Lawson is on, Country Antrim to Finland to South Africa? Thanks again for your help with this and your tenacity!

James Mullin,

I have checked with a member of the Blackshaw family re John Lawson and she has confirmed that he is a nephew.

Jade King,

Osmund, did you ever hear back from Kristoffer?

Comparing signatures, this John Lawson (now in South Africa) does seem to be the person:

http://people.fishpool.fi/~setok/JohnLawson/jris8.jpg
http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/bank-at-punchestown-168745

Alison, how do you think we should proceed, even if Osmund does not manage to hear from Kristoffer? Are we able to trace a birth date or more defined active dates, and hand this over to our copyright team?

Osmund Bullock,

Jade and Alison, I didn't hear back, but happy to have another go. Alternatively you could try an email, you perhaps have a bit more clout than me! His email is at the bottom of this page: http://people.fishpool.fi/~setok/

Another possibility is to attempt to contact John Lawson direct via Facebook, though his lack of activity there suggests he may not see it. This is his profile, I think: https://www.facebook.com/john.lawson.7583992

Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a telephone listing for a Lawson in the Western Cape - but he may well have moved (?or died) since he set up the FB page. Actually, I've now found quite a number of other Lawsons via his and Kristoffer's FB pages, relations I'm sure, and some are in England. Certainly best to try Kristoffer again first, but if that fails there are many other possibilities. I can't take this further myself just now - family issues in France and off there shortly - but if you draw a blank I can get to it in a week or two.

Osmund Bullock,

OK, I've emailed Kristoffer again, but it could well be a dead email address. If I've heard nothing by the time I return from France I'll phone Capgemini, the company Karl works for.

Osmund Bullock,

I have had a friendly and most helpful email back from Kristoffer Lawson, with apologies for his delay in replying. His father John - whom he agrees is probably the artist we are seeking - is in fact still in Finland (though he has family in S Africa), and KL has put us in email contact with each other direct. I'll write to JL shortly and report back - I'll also seek his permission to pass his email address on to the PCF, if that would be useful re copyright issues. I think we may finally be nearing the end of our journey...

Jade King,

Brilliant, thank you for the update Osmund...

Osmund Bullock,

I have heard back from John Lawson. I don't think his email is very private, so I part-copy it here:

'... what a small world! Great to see again some of the paintings I did over 30 years ago for Dr. Joe. What a wonderful man he was and one I was honoured to know. Many of my paintings were in a way a record especially of his equestrian life. Some of the paintings I had forgotten and some I would rather forget!!!

My full name is John Andrew Lawson. Born Belfast 26th May 1951.

Any other info you need send an email. Could talk all day about Dr. Joe and days spent talking at Sentry Hill ...'

I have replied asking for any artistic-biographical detail he may recall (training, exhibiting, etc), and which if he prefers we can just send to the Collection(s) direct for their files rather than posting it all on here.

Jade, I'll contact you with that in due course, along with John's email address once I've got the okay to pass it on.

Jade King,

That's incredible, thank you Osmund for tracking the artist down. We would certainly like to get in touch with Mr Lawson in relation to copyright.