William Orpen

Ireland / 1878 - 1931 / wikipedia / ricorso.net / thejackdaw.co.uk / tandfonline.com
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Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen


A small man, 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m) in height, his intense blue eyes set in a long-jawed angular face with a prominent lower lip and profusion of freckles, from an early age Orpen thought himself physically ugly, a conception that deeply colored his self-image, and the persona that he projected to friends and the public. In fact women found him very attractive, and he married Grace Knewstub, daughter of a London art-gallery manager; settling in Chelsea, the couple would have three daughters....

Orpen emulated Rembrandt as one of the most prolific self-portraitists in the history of art, engaging thereby in continual self-examination and self-dramatisation. His most arresting self portraits generally show him striking a characteristic ‘Orpen pose’: torso directed toward the left edge of the picture, with head turned over the left shoulder to eyeball the viewer with a direct, steady, penetrating gaze. The pose appears as early as Un amer curaçao, as he leans on the bar of a Normandy bistro. Often he depicts himself in costume, as though playing a role, or adopting an alter ego, or donning a disguise, thus facing the world in a series of masks: a Chardin-like painter in Self portrait with glasses, a game shooter in The dead ptarmigan, a stereotypical west-of-Ireland peasant in The man from Aran, a jockey in The Baldoyle steeplechaser. There are also self portraits of the artist at work: Myself and Venus and Myself and Cupid. In many self portraits of his middle period he exaggerates his supposed physical ugliness, accenting to the verge of caricature the less comely features of his countenance. The general effect of Orpen's self portraiture is the uncanny sense of the viewer being observed, with piercing eye, by the man on the canvas, not the reverse. (https://www.ria.ie/ga/node/88879)


In May 1931 Orpen became seriously ill and, after suffering periods of memory loss, died aged 52 in London, on 29 September 1931. (wikipedia)
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First Collected by

Miriam Garcia

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