John Henry Lorimer’s “Grandmother’s Birthday” painting arrives in Edinburgh from Paris for City Arts Center exhibition

Gwen Thomas (Head of Collections Maintenance, City Art Center), Candice Brunerie (Registrar, Musée d’Orsay) and David Patterson (Curation and Conservation Manager, City Art Center) Photo: Greg Macvean

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John Henry Lorimer’s “Grandmother’s Birthday” made the trip from Paris, where it is usually kept at the world-famous Musée d’Orsay, and will be the last piece in the exhibition “Reflections: light and the life of John Henry Lorimer “at the City Art Center.

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‘Grandma’s Birthday’, also known as ‘Bénédicte’, was the first painting by a Scottish artist to be purchased by the French government and was last exhibited in 1989 alongside works by Millet, Whistler and Morisot.

John Henry Lorimer’s grandmother’s birthday is unwrapped at the City Art Center where it is on loan from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris to be part of the Reflections: The Light and Life of John Henry Lorimer exhibition. Photo: Greg Macvean

At the time of the sale, Lorimer, who was born in the capital and educated at the University of Edinburgh, nearly won the Legion of Honor, the highest honor then for a painter, but he did could not accept the medal due to regulations regarding foreign honors in the arts.

The painting was inspired by a baptism for the artist’s nephew, James Lorimer Chalmers, also known as Giaco, who can be seen in the arms of family nanny, Joanna Herbert, at far left . The other children in the painting were modeled by various friends and neighbors.

The exhibit, supported by The Lorimer Society, The Inches Carr Trust, The Binks Trust, The East Fife Members Center and those who have contributed to the centre’s crowdfunding campaign, will see “Grandmother’s Birthday” on display alongside one of his brothers, architect and furniture designer. Sir Robert Lorimer’s chairs, shown in the painting.

The first retrospective of her work, the showcase will explore Lorimer’s art through the five key themes of light, identity, family, femininity and home.

It will also include works from public and private collections, the majority of which have already been exhibited to the public.

Lorimer is known for his paintings depicting interior scenes from Edwardian family life as well as light landscapes. Kellie Castle in Fife, the lease of which was acquired by the Lorimer family in 1878, and its grounds are also the subject of many paintings by the artist.

Along with the exhibition, the City Arts Center hosts a program of virtual and in-person events, including tours, conversations, discussions, lectures, poetry readings, art workshops, musical performances, costumed performances and fashion shows.

These include a virtual lecture entitled “The People Within the Paintings”, which will be given by the artist’s great-great-niece, Charlotte Lorimer. It focuses on Lorimer’s many muses, from his sisters to great British thinkers, rulers and entrepreneurs, of whom he has made over 100 portraits, and highlights some of the characters depicted in the paintings and their stories.

Other lectures will also cover the life and works of Lorimer’s older sister, Hannah, the real and imaginary world of Kellie Castle and the Scottish art collection at Kirkcaldy Galleries.

Workshops are also held, exploring how to include real life, various points of view and the reflection of light in your own work of art.

Reflections: The Light and Life of John Henry Lorimer at the City Art Center opened on Saturday and will run until March 20, 2022. Admission is free. For more information on events, visit

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