John Henry Lorimer's 'Grandmother's Birthday' painting arrives in Edinburgh from Paris for City Arts Centre exhibition

A Scottish painting has returned to Edinburgh - its creator’s home city - where it will be part of its first exhibition in more than three years.

Gwen Thomas (Collections Care Officer, City Art Centre), Candice Brunerie (Registrar, Musee d’Orsay) and David Patterson (Curation and Conservation Manager, City Art Centre) Picture: Greg Macvean
Gwen Thomas (Collections Care Officer, City Art Centre), Candice Brunerie (Registrar, Musee d’Orsay) and David Patterson (Curation and Conservation Manager, City Art Centre) Picture: Greg Macvean

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John Henry Lorimer’s ‘Grandmother’s Birthday’ made the trip from Paris, where it is usually stored at the world renowned Musee d’Orsay, and will be the final piece in the ‘Reflections: The light and life of John Henry Lorimer’ exhibition at the City Art Centre.

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

Grandmother’s Birthday by John Henry Lorimer is unpacked at the City Art Centre where it is on loan from the Musee D’Orsay in Paris to be part of the exhibition Reflections: The Light and Life of John Henry Lorimer. Picture: Greg Macvean

At the time of the sale, Lorimer, who was born in the capital and educated at the University of Edinburgh, almost earned the Legion d’Honneur, the then-highest accolade for a painter, but he was unable to accept the medal due to regulations around foreign honours in the Arts.

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

The exhibition, supported by The Lorimer Society, The Inches Carr Trust, The Binks Trust, The East Fife Members Centre and those who contributed to the centre’s crowdfunding campaign, will see ‘Grandmother’s Birthday’ displayed alongside one of his brother, architect and furniture designer Sir Robert Lorimer’s chairs, which is featured in the painting.

The first retrospective of his 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 both public and private collections, the majority of which have been been on public display before.

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

Alongside the exhibition, the City Arts Centre is running a programme of virtual and in-person events, including tours, in-conversations, talks, lectures, poetry readings, art workshops, musical performance, costumed performance and fashion shows.

These include a virtual lecture called ‘The People Within the Paintings’, which will be held by the artist’s great, great niece Charlotte Lorimer. It focuses on Lorimer’s numerous muses, from his sisters to great British thinkers, leaders and entrepreneurs, of whom he completed more than 100 portraits, and highlights some of the characters represented in the paintings and their stories.

Other talks will also delve into the life and works of Lorimer’s older sister Hannah, the real and imagined world of Kellie Castle and the collection of Scottish Art at Kirkcaldy Galleries.

Workshops are also being held, exploring how to include real life, various viewpoints and light reflection in your own artwork.

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

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