Sir William Orpen - Encyclopedia

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"SIR WILLIAM ORPEN (1878-), British painter, was born at Stillorgan, co. Dublin, Nov. 27 1878, and studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and at the Slade School, London. He was elected A.R.A. in 1910, and R.A. in 1919. He first exhibited at the New English Art Club, of which he became a member in 1900, his early work being marked by preoccupation with spacing and silhouette and the use of quiet harmonies of grey and brown, with a note of vivid red or blue. He soon turned to the use of bright colour and the study of light, seen in a series of brilliant portrait interiors such as the " Hon. Percy Wyndham " (1907), " Myself and Venus " (1910, now in Pittsburg Gallery, U.S.A.) and the " Countess of Crawford and Balcarres " (1914). At this time he produced a series of figure compositions, mainly of a satiric and fantastic character, such as " The Passing of his Lordship " and " A Western Wedding " (1914), and became well known for his vigorously characterized portraits, generally marked by the use of much reflected light in the shadows, recent examples of which are " Lady Bonham Carter" (1917), " M. Clemenceau " (1921), and " The Chef " (1921 R.A. Diploma work). To landscape he paid comparatively little attention. During the World War he received a special appointment as official artist, and in 1918 an exhibition of his war pictures was held in London. The same year he was created K.B.E. Many of these pictures were subsequently presented by the artist to the nation, and are now in the Imperial War Museum. They consist of a large number of military portraits, and a series of landscape and figure studies from the western front, marked by extreme competence in the choice and employment of means, but representing the reduction of previous experience into a skilfully handled recipe. Orpen's satiric bent and summary method sometimes bring his portraits near to caricature; and his predilection for silhouette and bizarre pattern is apt to reduce his figure and landscape work to a series of flat shapes without substance and weight, as may be seen in his two Peace Conference pictures, exhibited in 1919 at the Royal Academy. He is represented in the Tate Gallery by three typical portraits, and a water-colour drawing.

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