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Roderic O'Conor 1860-1940
Paris: Still Life Paintings




Nature Morte

Oil on canvas 18 by 22 inches
Signed by the artist and dated 1909.
Verso signed, titled, dated, no.5.
Provenance: M. Zeitline, Paris, France;
Mervyn and Pat Solomon, Ireland;
Whyte’s, Dublin, March 2013, lot 36;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art;
Private collection, Europe.
Exhibited: Salon d'Automne, Paris, 1909, no. 132;
Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, 1995-2000. Literature: Dr. Roy Johnston, ‘Roderic O'Conor - Vision and Expression’, 1996, pp.48-49.


It is well established that O’Conor was swayed in his landscape and genre work by artists such as Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cezanne. However, his development as a still life painter has not had the same degree of scrutiny. It has been suggested that, in this field, he was inclined to follow his contemporaries working in Paris in the first quarter of the 20th century. However, it now appears that his foundations are deeply rooted in traditional techniques, and that his style has its foundations in the work of a number of late 19th century painters, and a succession of preceding masters. The influences of artists as diverse as Memling, Seghers, Chardin and Manet are detectable, directly or indirectly.

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


Nature Morte au Vase de Fleurs


Oil on canvas, 18 x 21½ inches. Stamped verso atelier O’Conor
Provenance: Studio Sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1956;
Private Collection, France;
Georges Blache, Hotel Rameau, Versailles;
Felix Volmark, Paris;
Thierry Martin, Brest;
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, June 1990;
Private View,
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 2001

This  painting is a good example of O’Conor’s expressive use of oil paint. The rich, vibrant pigmentation demonstrates how his reputation as a colourist was established. Painted about 1920, the staging is carefully arranged to gain maximum benefit from the morning light, which streams through the studio window. The bright reds and yellows are brilliantly set off by the blue tablecloth, and the white porcelain of the vase. The subdued colouring of the background acts as a foil for the hot colours of the roses. The loose impressionistic treatment of the porcelain decoration is typical of his work of this period. The manner in which he paints the flowers is comparable to Paul Cezanne’s Flowers in a Vase, which will be discussed below. The motif of still life objects arranged on a roughly crumpled tablecloth appears frequently in the work of Cezanne. Close examination indicates that each of the paint layers have mixed with each other, which suggests that the painting was completed in one session.

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

Red Roses in a Jug

Bell Gallery, Belfast

It is surprising to discover that Gauguin appears to have had an influence on O'Conor well after they had parted ways in Brittany and perhaps even more surprising to discover that apart from his striking paintings from the South Seas, Gauguin could be as down to earth as the next when it came to still life. Although painted in 1876, the similarities between O'Conor's Red Roses and Gauguin's Peonies are remarkable. O'Conor appears to have reworked Gauguin’s design by replacing the music score with a white napkin. A similar cluster of flowers is arranged in a jar, which is of a similar shape. However, there is always the possibility that the likenesses are coincidental, and it must be borne in mind that the O’Connor was painted about fifty years later. The manner of arranging the flowers, the staging, lighting, and the background are all true to O’Conor’s style. O’Conor’s friendship with Gauguin in Pont-Aven is well documented, but the extent to which Gauguin had any lasting effect on O’Conor’s work is negligible.

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

Roses

Carrick Hill Museum, Adelaide, Australia

It is sometimes difficult to date O’Conor’s works accurately. However, on stylistic grounds, this flower piece was probably painted about 1915. Roses appears to have its origins in some of the paintings we have already looked at although is difficult to single out one individual source. The transparent light of the glass vase is comparable to Cezanne's Flowers in a Vase, and the way in which the arrangement sits towards the edge of a round table, covered in a ruffled tablecloth, reminds us of Renoir’s Still Life with Roses. However, the underlying style of the painting has more in common with the work of Manet, as can be seen in paintings such as Roses in a Glass Vase. In many of his works, Manet explored the qualities of diffused light as it passed through the clear glass of a vase, and the prism effect of the glass as it dispersed the colours of the flower stems. He was also intrigued by the distortion of colour caused by water in a vase. As we can see from this example, he also experimented with the effects of light as it left the glass, and the effect that this had on the areas which would otherwise have thrown a dark shadow. These are the same challenges which O’Conor set for himself in this otherwise simple study of a vase of roses.

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

Flowers

Oil on artist board,
46 x 38cm. Atelier stamp verso
Lepage trade label verso
Provenance: O’Conor Studio Sale, Paris, Hotel Drouot, 6/7 February 1956;
Crane Kalman Gallery, London;
Rev. Horace Bentley;
Crane Kalman Gallery, London, March 1971;
Mr. B. Shine;
Lad Lane Gallery, Dublin, March 1981;
Private Collection, Dublin

Exhibited:
From Ireland and France, Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin, Dec. 2001, no. 6


In his early days, while studying under Carolus-Duran in Paris, O'Conor learned the importance of individual interpretation and expression in the production of art. This philosophy remained at the heart of O’Conor’s work and greatly influenced his development as a painter. This was most apparent during his time spent in Brittany, but it remained a motivating factor throughout his career, and is discernible even in this late flower piece, painted about 1925. In many ways, this study is very close in style and handling to Nature Morte au Vase des Fleurs. The manner in which the flowers are handled is identical in both works. The casual handling of the tablecloth, on which the arrangement is staged, is also similar.

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

Roses Rouge

Oil on board, 46 x 38cm. Atelier O’Conor stamp verso
Provenance: O’Conor Studio Sale, Paris, Hotel Drouot, 6/7 February 1956;
Crane Kalman Gallery, London;
Godolphin Gallery, Dublin;
Private collection, Ireland;
DeVeres Art Auctions, Nov. 2007


The combination of flowers and fruit is a theme that O’Conor repeated many times, especially in his later years. Still life painting allowed him to follow his long established daily routine, without the inconvenience of having to secure a studio model. Most of these compositions were of casual arrangements, assembled with whatever props came to hand, mainly fruit and vegetables from the kitchen, or flowers from the street corner. Painted about 1920, Roses Rouge is one of a small group of works where O’Conor stages his composition directly on a table top, thereby allowing the arrangement to reflect off the polished surface. The light from the studio window is shown in the glaze of the green pot, a typical feature of his work from this period. The geometric pattern created by the bookshelves in the background is another feature which occurs regularly.

O’Conor was highly regarded as a colourist amongst his contemporaries. His rich and distinctive palette consisted of sumptuous reds, blues, yellows and greens. His command of colour allowed him to combine hot pigments with delicate pastel shades without throwing the combinations out of balance. His method was to build up his paintings layer by layer, using a wet on wet technique. In a number of paintings, certain sections were finished with a palette knife, and occasionally the entire painting was worked in this way. Although his paintings give an impression of spontaneity, they were carefully planned. His routine was traditional, beginning with a stained priming coat, followed by a wash drawing, blocking in, underpainting and as many as five final layers. These were usually completed in a single session, perhaps taking no more than a morning’s work.

To an extent, still life painting is something of a leveller. As we have seen above, even amongst the most famous of the Impressionists, it can be difficult to put a name on an unfamiliar painting. In landscape or figurative work, it is often the familiar subject matter that we recognise rather than the artist’s style. This is perhaps where O’Conor’s strength lies. His technique was unique; the end result unmistakeable. He was undoubtedly influenced by many of the greatest painters of the modern age yet he managed to develop a style remote from them all. It was simple and honest style, which progressed through many changes without ever loosing its own distinctive stamp of individuality.

See also Roderic O'Conor, Paris Interiors
Roderic O'Conor: Brittany
Roderic O'Conor: Biography



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