Lawlor, John (1820?–1901), sculptor, was born in Dublin; nothing is known of his parents. He received his artistic training in the schools of the Dublin Society, where he studied under John Smyth (qv). In 1843 he was awarded a prize by the Irish Art Union for his sculpture ‘Cupid pressing grapes into the glass of time’. The following year he exhibited for the first time at the RHA. He followed the path taken by many Irish artists in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when in 1845 he left Dublin for London. There, working under the English sculptor John Thomas (1813–62), he carved a number of statues for the new houses of parliament at Westminster. At Thomas's recommendation he enrolled in the schools of the Royal Academy in 1847. In doing so he gave his age as 24, which would place his birth in 1823. This, however, is the only instance where a date other than 1820 is given for his birth.
His rising reputation was aided by his winning a medal in London at the Great Exhibition of 1851 for his plaster model ‘A bather’, which was also exhibited at the Dublin International Exhibition of 1853. Subsequently, he was commissioned by Prince Albert to execute the piece in marble. It was erected in the grounds of the royal residence of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight (1856). He received further royal patronage in 1864, when he was commissioned to sculpt the group ‘Engineering’ (1871) for the Albert Memorial (Hyde Park, London). (His compatriot, J. H. Foley (qv), was responsible for the main figure of Prince Albert and the group ‘Asia’). It is for this work that Lawlor is best known. The group of four figures is treated with the combination of realism and classicism typical of the predominant style in Victorian sculpture. The figures are juxtaposed so as to create a composition of clarity and balance, essentially classical in its inspiration. Indeed, the figures, particularly that of the designer who turns to show his plans to the presiding female personification of engineering, are strongly reminiscent of those in Raphael's fresco ‘The school of Athens’ (1509–11), one of the great works of the Italian high renaissance. These two central figures are flanked on the left by a labourer who awaits his instructions, hammer in hand, and on the right by the mechanic who holds a cogwheel, representative of modern technical advances. Taken as a whole the group may be seen as symbolic of a contemporary ideal of social hierarchy.
In 1886 Lawlor travelled to America, where, despite receiving a number of commissions, he did not settle and returned to London within two years. He maintained his links with Ireland, visiting regularly to work on notable public commissions such as the statue of Patrick Sarsfield (qv) for Limerick and the monument to Dr Delaney (qv), bishop of Cork. The latter work was erected outside St Mary's cathedral, Cork (1889); Lawlor's plaster cast of it is in the collection of the Crawford Gallery of Art, Cork. He was also responsible for a number of statues for the new cathedral at Queenstown (Cobh), Co. Cork, around this time. He also produced portrait busts of many notable Irish figures such as Daniel O'Connell (qv) and William Smith O'Brien (qv).
Though his work was always greeted with approval, throughout his life he found himself unable to pursue his career with the diligence that would have given him financial security in his old age. Despite this, he remained a popular figure in artistic circles in London for his wit and warmth of character. He died there, unmarried, in 1901.
He was followed in his profession by his nephew Michael Lawlor (1840–1920), born in Dublin, son of Patrick Lawlor, formerly of Maryborough, Queen's Co. (Portlaoise, Co. Laois). He began his studies at the Dublin Society schools before going to Paris, which by the 1860s was the preferred destination for young artists wishing to extend their studies as opposed to London. Ultimately, however, he did settle in London, where he worked in the studio of his uncle. He was a regular exhibitor in London from the 1870s, and contributed five works to the RHA in 1878. Examples of his work were included in the Irish Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in Dublin (1882) and the Industrial Exhibition in Cork (1883). Like his uncle he received royal patronage, executing a medallion for the future George V in 1893, and a posthumous bust of Edward VII for Queen Alexandra in 1911. His bust of John Redmond (qv) is in the NGI. He died 24 July 1920 in London. His daughter Gertrude was also active as a sculptor.