Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Picture of the Week No. 20 - Roderic O'Conor

Before I start on this week's picture, I've updated the exhibitions page with all the latest on shows in the new Bedford Gallery exhibition space and community gallery in the Museum, where there's a brand new display this week on the Star Rowing Club and work produced by young people and family groups who have been inspired by our collections and projects. All the details can be found if you follow the link above.

All bank holiday weekend I had the sensation that I should be walking along a craggy and windswept beach, instead I had to make do with the very landlocked but still lovely walks of central Bedfordshire. What I really had in mind was the sort of coastline depicted in Roderic O'Conor's 'Brittanny Coast' c.1893, a wonderfully evocative drawing in ink and wash, with a touch of chalk. Its spontaneity and cragginess fills the nostrils with cold and salty sea air. As usual, I have included the entry from the published catalogue of Watercolours & Drawings in the collection. Further information on all the published catalogues can be found here. KP

RODERIC O’CONOR(1860-1940)
Brittany Coast, c.1893

ink and wash and some chalk on paper, 30.8 × 47.5 cm
stamped: atelier O’CONOR
Accession No.: P.218

O’Conor was born at Milton in County Roscommon, Ireland, the second eldest in a family of six. The O’Conor family was of some note in this area of Ireland with a lineage that could be traced back several hundred years.

After initial study at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, he transferred to the Hibernian Academy of Art in 1881-82 (collecting four prizes for his work). Owing to the success of his studies his tutors recommended that he go to Europe to further his studies, initially at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts d'Anvers in Antwerp and then in Paris, under the portrait painter Carolus-Duran, (1837-1917).

O’Conor was certainly in Pont-Aven from 1892, although he was probably there earlier as his paintings exhibited at the Salon des Indépendents of that year had Breton titles. Initially painting elderly Breton peasants, O'Conor had by 1893 developed an interest in the Breton landscape as a subject, painting in a style noticeably influenced by Van Gogh. The end of 1893 was significant for O’Conor as, with the death of his father he inherited the family estate and achieved financial security through ground rents from his tenant farmers.

Returning to Paris, O’Conor lived in Montparnasse. The young Clive Bell described him and his circle as having 'played as influential a part in my life as any of my Cambridge contemporaries'. The meeting place for artists was the Chat Blanc restaurant, amongst whose occasional visitors were Aleister Crowley and Somerset Maugham, whom Crowley described as having 'suffered terribly under the lash of universal contempt…The man he most hated was Roderic O’Conor'. JM
PROVENANCE: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, Sale O’Conor, 7 February 1956; Roland, Browse and Delbanco, from whom purchased by Gallery, April 1958.
EXHIBITIONS: Roderic O’Conor, Pont-Aven, Musée de Pont-Aven, 1984, no.66; Roderic O’Connor, Belfast, Ulster Museum, Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, 1985-86, no.125.
REFERENCES: J. Benington, Roderic O’Conor: A Biography with a catalogue of his work, 1992, p.229, illus. no.337; A. Crookshank & the Knight of Glin, The Watercolours of Ireland, 1994, p.263, illus. no.371 as Côtes Bretagne.

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