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Roderic O'Conor in Paris

Nu Allonge au Divan

Oil on canvas, 28¾ x 36¼ inches. Stamped verso atelier O’Conor

Provenance: Studio Sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1956;
Paul Conran Fine Art, London, 1978;
Private collection, Dublin
Exhibited: Private View, Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 2001

O'Conor arrived in Paris from Brittany in 1904 and spent the following thirty years or so working from his studio in Montparnasse. Apart from occasional visits to the countryside to paint the landscape, he concentrated on figure painting, still lifes, flower studies and portraits. His figure studies were painted in an Intimiste manner, a description usually reserved for works by Vuillard and Bonnard, which refers to an Impressionist type of painting depicting everyday life in a domestic setting. However, O’Conor’s brand of Intimisme grew out of chance rather than design. His apartment doubled as his studio, which created a natural and relaxed setting where he posed his models reading, sewing, brushing their hair or simply resting in a chair.

One aspect which distinguishes these interiors is their colouring and Nu Allonge au Divan is a very good example of this. There may be a temptation to describe these paintings as Fauve, a movement which grew up around Matisse shortly after O'Conor's arrival in Paris. However, as we can see from his work of the preceding decade, O’Conor had already developed a progressive approach to colouring, well in advance of the Fauves. By the time he set up his Montparnasse studio, this had matured into a highly sophisticated style, which earned him the reputation amongst his contemporaries as a master of colour.

An important feature of this painting is the simple naturalness of the study, which O'Conor achieved by his skilful use of the ébauche. Referring in his 1985 catalogue to a related painting, Reclining Nude Before a Mirror (National Gallery of Ireland), Dr. Roy Johnston draws our attention to Couture's use of the technique and how it may have influenced O'Conor: "Couture's painting is a good example of his own pictorial use of the 'ébauche', best described as a light underpainting based on a thin staining of the ground. Over this, Couture would drag a well charged brush in a single decisive stroke. The essence of his method was one of spontaneity and directness, so that this immediately gave the ébauche its own expressive qualities. Principles such as these seem to have guided O'Conor's hand in this delicate, sensitive, and softly-coloured painting."

The same can be said for Nu Allonge au Divan. The reclining figure is painted in a transparent turpentine wash, which allows the priming layer to show through. To depict the highlights, a mixture of lemon yellow, Naples yellow shade and touches of pink are dragged on with a dry brush. The shadows and facial features are painted in an array of pinks, reds and crimson. The minimalist depiction of the reclining figure makes a dramatic contrast to the rich colours of the studio, painted in a warm palette of pinks, blues, orange and crimson. The round bottle vase reflected in the mirror behind the model is a familiar feature in these interiors. The small flight of steps in the background leads to the living quarters where an intense light cascades through the window. This aspect gives the painting dept and perspective and sets it further apart from the Fauves who tended to paint in flat planes.

Nu au Canapé Rouge

Oil on canvas, 28¾ x 36¼ inches.

Provenance: Studio Sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1956;
Private collection, France, since 1956;
By descent, 1970;
Serge Tesson, Parthenay, France
Exhibited: Private View, Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 2001

The recent discovery of Nu au Canapé Rouge adds further insight into O’Conor’s working methods. In contrast to the softer palette used for Nu Allonge au Divan, this version is dominated by the reds of the interior, which gives the painting an entirely different atmosphere. The almost monochromatic treatment of the studio is vividly emphasised by the brilliant white light streaming through the window in the background. In further contrast to the previous work, the paint is applied in exceptionally heavy layers.

Although the main narrative of Nu Allonge is adhered to, there are a number of variations. We find additional ornamentation on each side of the lantern, which sits on top of the bookcase. A small Buddha stands to the right and a porcelain vase can be seen to the left. Alongside the bulbous vase, reflected in the mirror, we find the addition of a tray on which rests a partly filled decanter and glass, both of which appear to contain wine. The back edge of the divan and the arm of the model are reflected in the mirror. The chair, which stands in front of the bookcase, is a familiar prop.

Reflexion

Oil on canvas, 23¾ x 19¾ inches. Stamped verso atelier O’Conor

Provenance: Studio Sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1956;
Conran Fine Art, London
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 1985;
Private collection, Dublin

This is one of O’Conor’s most accomplished interior studies, which can be dated to about the same period. Bright morning light from the studio window floods across the model and vibrantly highlights her long golden hair. The finely balanced colour range is pulsating and harmonious. The treatment of the facial features is similar to that used in Nu Allonge au Divan and although almost devoid of detail, they are sufficient enough to suggest that the same model may have sat for both works. Even so, there is no mistaking the girl's pensive expression. She sets her book down and rests her head on the palm of her hand, perhaps reflecting on what she has just read or on life in general.

The painting is another example of O'Conor's association with the main movements in the development of modern art in the early years of the 20th centurry. Slight and subtle as it is, we find in this work recognition of the cubist movement that was gathering pace in Paris at the time. The rectangular blocks of colour, which form the background, are not accidental. The first Cubist exhibition was held in Paris in 1907. Apart from Picasso and Braque, the main adherents to the movement were Derain, Léger, Delauny and Gris. The first book on the subject, `Du Cubisme`, was published by two other leading exponents, Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger in 1912 at about the same time as O'Conor painted this work. However, as we have seen with his approach to Fauvism, Intimisme and the other isms which he encountered, O'Conor merely hints at a recognition of the movement. He produces a painting with true depth of field and without any suggestion of a flattening of the picture plane.

Jeune Fille au Bouquet de Violettes

Oil on canvas, 21¾ x 18 inches. Stamped verso atelier O’Conor

Provenance: Studio Sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1956;
Private collection, France, from 1956;
By descent, 1970;
Serge Tesson, Parthenay, France
Exhibited: Private View, Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 2001

This study was painted about the same time or perhaps even a little earlier. O'Conor was well established in the rue du Cherche-Midi where his daily routine revolved around the models who would visit the studio in the mornings. In this example, the dappled background is shown in a natural light, which progresses into the dark shadow of a corner of the studio. This type of staging is very similar to that used in Reflexion and was carried over from Breton works such as Jeune Bretonne en Coiffe de Pont-Aven. It is also be found in many later portraits and still-lifes. Although O’Conor’s sumptuous reds, crimsons and violets are very prominent here, they are subdued by the softer colours of the costume. The model wears a delicate posy of violets pinned to her blouse. The facial features are built up with a minimum of brushstrokes and the outline drawing in ultramarine remains visible throughout the composition. However simple these works may appear, they are very carefully composed. The model is placed to one side of the chair, which allows the bright red of the upholstery to lift the dark shadow of the corner.

O'Conor painted this girl on a number of other occasions. In Woman in White (Johnston cat. 48), for example, she is posed in the same chair wearing a similar blouse and skirt and a wide-brimmed hat laden with flowers. In another version, Lady in a Summer Hat, the sitter wears the same costume in a more loosely worked painting. This version is more closely related to our painting, both in the features of the girl and the manner in which it is painted. The same model appears again in another fine work in which she wears a frilled high neck blouse, sitting in a chair placed against a light floral background.

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Roderic O’Conor.

Girl in a White Blouse

Oil on artist board, reinforced, 28¾ x 19¾ inches

Provenance: Crane Kalman, London;
Exhibited: Private View, Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 2001

O’Conor had the ability to reflect the mood of a painting through his choice of colours. The luxuriant and harmonious pigments used in this painting reflect the quiet and tranquil scene portrayed. The soft pink of the model's skirt is vigorously crosshatched using a technique found in other works of about 1912. Although highly finished, close examination suggests a work painted at one sitting. O’Conor had a fine collection of ceramics which feature in many of his paintings. Oriental jars and vases were used to display informal flower arrangements. The size and shape of the blue and white charger to the left of the door can be gauged by the shadow it throws onto the wall. The model is placed in the centre of the room although she still gains good effect from the light of the studio window. The painting is closely related to Woman in White, (Johnston cat.48) where the model, also in a white blouse, is seated in front of the door with the light catching her from the side. The lightness of palette and handling of paint is comparable in both works. The pose and theme can be compared to Reflexion.

This work was in all probability sold at the Studio Sale in 1956. The thin artist board on which it is painted is identical to other autograph paintings of the period. The original board is reinforced with a modern fibreboard backing, which probably obscures the atelier stamp. The painting was offered in 2007 at auction in London and was incorrectly described as A Quiet Read. There is an important O’Conor in the National Gallery of Ireland, which carries this title and to avoid confusion, this painting should retain the present description.

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Roderic O’Conor.

Femme au Corsage Mauve

Oil on canvas, 32 x 25¾ inches. Signed by the artist and dated 1912. Stamped verso atelier O’Conor

Provenance: Studio Sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1956;
Oscar Ghez, Geneve;
Private collection, Belfast;
DeVeres, Dublin, 16th November 1999, lot 64
Private collection, Dublin
Exhibited: Private View, Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 2001

By comparing identified portraits and contemporary photographs to this painting, it can now be stated with a fair degree of certainty, that this is the earliest known portrait of Renée Honta. As such, the importance of this painting has been overlooked in the past. Painted in 1912, when Renée was eighteen years of age, it is one of O’Conor’s most sensitive studies of Renée.

Close examination of the canvas confirms that the date is original and can be relied upon. As this establishes Renée’s age when she sat for the portrait, it is an important observation. The first link in a chain of comparisons is Étude de Femme (Johnston cat.66), painted about 1915, when Renée was twenty-one. There is a distinct general likeness in the features in these two portraits, both of which match closely with photographs of Renée. Taken individually, all the main characteristics of the two models are as close as one will find in a painting. The strongest identifying feature is the nose, distinctively long, wide and protruding. The eyes are wide-set with bushy eyebrows. The neck is particularly short. The lips are set at a similar distance from the nose. The shape of the chin and oval shape of the face are common. Although the hairstyle differs, it is dark and plentiful in both cases. The body frame, hands and arms are also similar.

 Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Roderic O’Conor 

Nude Seated on a Green Rug

Oil on canvas, 32 x 26 inches. Signed by the artist. Stamped verso atelier O’Conor

Provenance: Studio Sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1956;
Estate of Mademoiselle Abadie;
Private collection sold to benefit Fondation Salve, Tajan, Paris
Private collection, Dublin
Exhibited: Private View, Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 2001

This is likely to be a another study of Renée, painted about 1925, when she was aged about thirty. A number of pointers assist in dating the painting; the hairstyle being the most helpful. Although this was a good 14 years after Femme au Corsage Mauve was painted, all of the facial likenesses described above are apparent. Another painting to which the same argument applies is La Jeune Fille, (Benington cat.216) painted when Renée was about 22 years of age. However, in this example, her hair is brushed out, which makes her look considerably younger. O’Conor painted many of the works from this period with a predominantly green palette, replacing his more familiar reds. He demonstrates his complete knowledge and understanding of colour harmony with a lightly stained canvas, the texture of which remains clearly visible in parts. Over this initial stain, he applied a heavy paint layer and worked this with a palette knife to obtain highlights for the flesh tones. Some black lines of the initial drawing remain visible.

Photograph of an oil painting by Roderic O'Conor.

Reclining Nude in the Studio

Oil on canvas 26 x 32 inches. Signed by the artist lower right. Stamped verso atelier O'Conor

Provenance: Studio Sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1956;
Abadie collection, France;
Tajan, Paris, Nov.1995;
Christie's, London, May 2003, lot 64
Whytes, Dublin, 2013;
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec.2014

Painted in the Rue du Cherche Midi studio about 1915, this work shows a more informal approach to the nude than what had gone before. The paint is applied with absolute freedom and in a spontaneous manner. The study is essentially a celebration of colour. O’Conor is in full control of his palette; the crimson lakes, reds, pinks, blues, greens and ochres are applied in fine balance and harmony. O’Conor has draped the studio divan with a colourful tapestry on which the model poses. Surrounded by familiar studio props, she reclines in a complex pose, which is very well drawn by the artist.

It has been suggested that the eyes were added later to this painting by another hand. This is entirely incorrect. We have examined the painting under magnification and we can confirm that the colours of the eyes and immediate surrounding areas overlap each other and mix wet on wet. The same applies to every other section of the painting, which was executed in its entirety by the artist alla prima. This is a first class example of O’Conor’s mastery of this technique.

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Roderic O’Conor

La Robe Rouge

Oil on canvas, 25½ x 19½ inches. Signed by the artist and indistinctly dated. Atelier O’Conor stamp verso

Provenance: Studio Sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1956;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 1987;
Private collection, Dublin.

This is a very good example of the manner in which O’Conor occasionally reverted to a form of his earlier striping technique, although it was much more restrained than the Pont-Aven paintings. The figure is formed by series of bold vertical stripes, which are almost imperceptible. The sitter appears to be deep in thought, and has a sad expression on her face. There is a wonderful harmony of reds and mauves throughout the composition. The red rose clipped to the hair transforms the painting and gives a lift to the side of the face which is in shadow. The manner in which the model is posed, with one arm resting on the back of the chair, gives the painting an air of informality. On stylistic grounds, the painting may be dated to 1916 or thereabouts. The indistinct date of the inscription has been interpreted as 1921. However, this is practically illegible and certainly not strong enough to be relied on.

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Roderic O’Conor

Nu Alangui

Oil on canvas, 21¼ x 25½ inches. Stamped bottom right atelier O’Conor

Provenance: Studio Sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1956;
Private collection, France;
Etude Tajan, Hotel Drouot, Paris
Private collection, Dublin
Exhibited: Private View, Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 2001

This is one of a small group of paintings from the 1920s in which the model fills the canvas along a diagonal plane. Another example of this type is Reclining Nude, (Johnston cat.78) dated circa 1921. However, there are a number of additional aspects to this work which sets it apart from norm. The manner in which the model is cropped by the canvas edge is unusual although the pose of the model is similar to that in paintings such as Nu au Canapé Rouge and Reclining Nude before a Mirror (National Gallery of Ireland), especially in the position of the legs and outstretched arm. The cropping of the figure leads to an intense focus on the model with only a small glimpse of the studio showing in the chaise longue. Another unusual aspect is the manner in which he portrays the model from the back, just as he had done in a small group of paintings ten years earlier. However, these earlier paintings were significantly different in composition as they invariably took in a wide view of the studio.

Roderic O'Conor: Brittany
Roderic O'Conor: Flowers
Roderic O'Conor: Biography


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