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Frank O'Meara 1853-1888

Photograph of a painting by Frank O'Meara.

Old Mill at Grez


Oil on canvas, 18 x 22 inches
Inscribed verso, 'Frank O'Meara - Carlow - Ireland'

Provenance: David Smithers O'Meara, grand-nephew of the artist;
Christies, Belfast, September 1991;

Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin;
Private collection, USA
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 1992;
America’s Eye, Boston College Museum of Art, January 1996;

Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, June 1996
Literature: J. Campbell. ‘Frank O'Meara and his contemporaries’, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, 1989, Appendix 1, No.5 entitled 'Landscape with Mill'

In his catalogue notes for our 1992 exhibition, Dr. Julian Campbell wrote as follows: “Frank O'Meara was born in Carlow in 1853. His father was a doctor and one of his ancestors, Barry O'Meara, was Napoleon's physician at St. Helena. It is not known if Frank studied art in Ireland, but in his late teens he started making drawings of local landscapes. In c.1872 he set off to Paris to study art, entering the atelier of portrait painter Carolus Duran. Amongst his fellow students were English, Scottish and American artists, the most gifted of whom was the young John Singer Sargent.

In 1875 O'Meara first visited the artists' colonies of Barbizon and Grez-sur-Loing, on the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau. Revisiting Grez each summer, he decided to settle in the village, becoming one of the most colourful bohemian figures there. Amongst his companions were the Scottish cousins R.A.M. and Robert Louis Stevenson (O'Meara is given sympathetic mention in a recent biography of Stevenson in Richard Holmes' alluring publication Footsteps - Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985). O'Meara was a central figure in the circle of William Stott of Oldham, Carl Larsson (from Sweden), and John Lavery, who were absorbing the influences of French naturalism and later introducing them into their own countries.

O'Meara seems to have exhibited in Ireland only once during his lifetime, at the R.H.A. in 1879, but he showed work at the Paris Salon that same year and in 1882, in London, Liverpool and at the Royal Glasgow Institute on several occasions. His pictures made a strong impact there, and were said to be influential in the development of the Glasgow School. O'Meara spent the winter of 1887-88 at Etaples, on the North West coast of France. He returned home to Carlow in Spring 1888, suffering from malarial fever (or perhaps tuberculosis) and died in October, aged only thirty five.

O'Meara's oeuvre is small, but his work is notable for its melancholy, autumnal mood, its 'poetic' feeling and its use of subdued but harmonious tones. Of his series of riverside canvases with women, sometimes young girls, sometimes elderly peasants, by the water's edge, one picture is in the Ulster Museum Belfast, and five in the Hugh Lane Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, including his masterpiece Towards the Night and Winter.

Old Mill at Grez is unusual in O'Meara's oeuvre, as a landscape lacking in human figures. O'Meara is best-known for his series of French landscapes, with women standing at the river's edge. So the present picture, along with another recently-exhibited picture, the fine, upright woodland scene Autumnal Greys, Forest of Fontainebleau, 1880,
{1} is an added rarity. O'Meara represents a sturdy stone mill amongst trees beside a river. In the background a bridge can be seen. He captures the sad moment of the day after the sun has set, and the colours have been drained out of the landscape. The treatment of the reflections in the water and the use of subdued tones, silvery greens, greys and browns, all add to the evening atmosphere and melancholy autumnal mood that were to characterise O'Meara's fine riverside landscapes at Grez in the 1880's.

The sombre tonality, handling of paint and use of impasto in certain areas would suggest that Old Mill at Grez is an early work, probably painted in the late 1870's and contemporary with the poetic composition with two figures Autumnal Sorrows, 1878 (Ulster Museum, Belfast). The treatment of the sunset, the yellow rim of light above the horizon and among the trees, and the off-white blocks of paint at the base of the mill (a wall or fence, perhaps), are distinctive. In later canvases, O'Meara's paintwork grew thinner and more transparent. But here, the colour is also enriched by the glowing 'Corot' greens on the riverbank, the russet shades of the leaves, and the touch of orange on the roof of the shed.

In contrast to English painters such as B.W. Leader,
{2}  with their over-detailed treatment of landscape, O'Meara has learned the lessons of the French 'Plein-airists', with their concern for a general effect and a harmony of mood. His pleasing treatment of reflections in the still river has echoes of Corot, while his representation of buildings and trees against gleaming evening sky had a certain 'Barbizon' mood. The presence of the river bank in the foreground serves to frame the composition, and give a sense of depth to the scene. (O'Meara's friend at Grez, William Stott of Oldham, was to use the river bank to similar effect in his celebrated picture The Ferry, circa 1882 (private collection)). O'Meara adds strength to his composition by his skilful balance of verticals and horizontals.

O'Meara seems to have been drawn to river scenes from his early days, and conceivably the painting could be a mill scene on the river Barrow, near his home town of Carlow. But most likely it is a French landscape of the mill and bridge at the village of Grez-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau. O'Meara was living here circa 1875-1888, and the majority of his pictures were painted here. Moreover, the art dealer's stamp and worn luggage label 'Baggages, Bourron' on the reverse of the painting seem to confirm a French provenance.
{3} The village of Bourron was the local station for Grez-sur-Loing. The general 'greyness' of Grez, of its little streets and stone houses, was noted by contemporaries. But, the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, one of O'Meara's companions at Grez, enthused over the village in an article entitled 'Fontainebleau: Village Community of Painters', published in The Magazine of Art in 1884: "Gretz lies out of the forest, down by the bright river. It boasts a mill, an ancient church, a castle, and a bridge of many sterlings".{4}

The old stone bridge of Grez was featured in paintings by many artists, for example his friend and fellow-countryman John Lavery, upon whom it exerted its fascination. As Stevenson remarks: "the bridge is a piece of public property, anonymously famous;
beaming from the walls of a hundred exhibitions, I have seen it in the Salon; I have seen it in the Academy".{5} O'Meara, surprisingly, seems to feature the bridge in only two paintings, here in Old Mill and in Autumnal Sorrows.

Old Mill at Grez
remained in the collection of the O'Meara family until 1990. It is possible that it was not exhibited during the artist's lifetime. However, it may be the picture entitled Rest at Evening, which Frank's eldest sister Sara loaned to the exhibition of Irish Art at the Guildhall, London in 1904 (the measurements of the two pictures are exactly the same).
{6} Old Mill at Grez joins the small number of paintings by O'Meara that have been re-discovered in recent years, and adds further valuable information to our knowledge of this elusive but influential Irish artist.” 


NOTES

{
1}. Life and Landscape, Pims Gallery, London 1991, no.9
{2}. See for example B. W. Leader's February Fill-Dyke, City Art Gallery, Birmingham.
{3}. The artist's name and Irish address, Frank O'Meara, Carlow, Ireland, are inscribed on the reverse of the stretcher. But the canvas is French, standard F10 size, 46 x 55cms, the artist colourman's stamp 'Maison de Serez, Gde rue 100, Fontainebleau. Couleurs Fines et Toiles y Peindre'. Moreover, an old luggage label, 'Baggages, Bourron', is still visible.
{4}. 'Fontainebleau: Village Community of Painters', by Robert Louis Stevenson. 'The Magazine of Art', Vol. VII, 1884, p.341
{5}. Ibid.
{6}. Rest at Evening, 18" x 22", exhibited Guildhall, London, 1904, no. 149



O'Meara Forgery

photograph of a 'Frank O'Meara' forgery.

Forgery: O'Meara, 'Returning Home', oil on canvas 14 1/2 x 9 inches,
Christie's, London, lot 133, 12th Nov. 1987

Shortly after the Christie's sale, we examined this painting under a microscope and in ultra violet light. We concluded that the signature was forged. Christie's in London were notified and agreed immediately to rescind the sale without any argument whatsoever. We delivered the painting to Christie's Dublin office where their agent, examining the back of the painting said that it was on period canvas. So convinced was he that he repeated this a number of times. The painting was recently lined and had an additional outer canvas applied over the lining canvas. This is a common procedure employed by a small number of conservators. However, we were astonished to find that Christie's expert was unable to tell the difference between a canvas that was no more than a couple of years old and a period canvas from the 1880s.

Photograph of a 'Frank O'Meara' forgery.

Forgery: O'Meara, 'Horses Grazing', oil on canvas 21 x 24 1/2 inches
.
Christie's, London, May 1989, unsold; Adams, Dublin, Oct.1990, unsold


Previously with an Irish dealer, this painting last appeared with Dreweatt Neate in their sale on the on the 14th July, 1999. We pointed out to the auctioneers that the painting carries an added signature and that it does not resemble the artist's style in any way. The painting was withdrawn.

These two paintings are recorded in various price indexes as genuine works by Frank O'Meara. Another forgery from the same period has reappeared on a number of occasions. This is a scene with a shepherd and a flock of sheep passing a a stone tower. It was sold in Dublin by Christie's in conjunction with
Hamilton Osborne King on the 26th May 1989, lot 328, 54x43cm. We have examined this painting and found that the signature is a forgery.


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