Have finally sorted out the mystery of this painting, after another query. The painting, called "The First Irish Airwoman" is of Lavery's daughter Eileen who was married to the Master of Sempill, both of them pilots (see "Sir John Lavery" by Kenneth McConkey page 162). Another painting "'The First Flight to Dublin" also dates from this period (1926); the Irish Free State had bought a few planes from the British and these were flown to Dublin by the Sempills .
From the Hugh Lane Art Gallery Website.
(The portrait we know of shows Lady Mary in her ambulance driver's uniform standing beside a car and painted by Lavery when he was on war artist duties in France. It remains in the house of a distant relative in Co Limerick.)
An Irish Pilot
This wonderful painting by one of Ireland’s best loved portrait painters John Lavery features the fascinating Lady Heath, born Sophie Pierce Evans in Limerick. For a five-year period from the mid-1920s, pilot Lady Mary Heath was one of the best-known women in the world. It was an era when everyone had gone aviation mad, she was the first woman to parachute and the first woman to gain a commercial pilot’s licence. In 1928 Lady Heath made front-page news worldwide as the first pilot ever, male or female, to fly a small, open cockpit plane solo from Cape Town to London. Back home in Ireland in the 1930s, she was reputed to have landed her plane on every flat field in the country.
This fine portrait is in good condition, but its valuable, ornate frame is suffering from extensive flaking of the gilding. This requires urgent attention from a gilding conservator before it can be displayed. Intriguingly, the portrait appears to have been painted over a different composition and we hope to investigate this fascinating possibility by x-raying the painting.
Conservation costs €3000