One of the most popular artists of his time, William Orpen (Irish, 1878–1931) was born in County Dublin and studied art at London’s prestigious Slade School. His masterful technique and fresh style earned him portraiture commissions from wealthy socialites while still in his youth. In 1901 he married Grace Knewstub (seen in Window in London Street). The couple lived in London but traveled regularly to Ireland, where Orpen taught at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and painted idyllic images such as Looking at the Sea.
In 1917 Orpen was sent to France as an official war artist. His unflinching depictions of the horrors of war, as well as his arresting portraits of generals and politicians (with whom he had a conflicted relationship), enhanced further his enviable reputation. The direct influence on his art of developments in Ireland is less apparent. As Orpen was not particularly politically motivated, he maintained a distance from the independence movement. However, he did retain a personal interest in his native country, and in The Holy Well he questioned both the nature of religious obedience and the increasing tendency among artists, writers, and politicians to identify the western seaboard as the “authentic” Ireland.
The perplexing character of “The Holy Well” contrasts with the indulgent sensuality of the French-inspired painting Sunlight.
Having spent the last years of his life in England, Orpen died in London at the age of fifty-two.
Contains five each of the following notecards:
Looking at the Sea, c. 1910
The Holy Well, 1916
Window in London Street, 1901
Sunlight, c. 1925