William ORPEN (Stillorgan 1878 - London 1931)

The Artist’s Wife and Daughter on the Cliff at Howth

Pencil and watercolour on off-white paper, laid down.
Signed and dated William Orpen 1910 in pencil at the lower right.
341 x 503 mm. (13 3/8 x 19 3/4 in.)

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This splendid large sheet, drawn in a fine pencil with light touches of watercolour, depicts the artist’s wife Grace and daughter Mary on the clifftop at Howth Head in Co. Dublin, where the family were on their summer holidays. Orpen and Grace first visited Howth in 1907, and rented a house called ‘The Cliffs’ there for a number of summers afterward. The house enjoyed a spectacular location, overlooking Dublin Bay with the city in the distance; as Orpen was to write several years later, ‘The view looking towards the mainland in the evening, from the top of the Hill of Howth, is wonderful and ever-changing.’

It was during these August vacations that Orpen was at his happiest, enjoying the company of his young family and freed, at least temporarily, from the pressure of his many formal portrait commissions. As his friend and biographer P. G. Konody noted, ‘These pictures of life by the sea and among the Irish hills...of open-air sketching and children playing, breathe the spirit of physical well-being and freedom from mental worries. They are filled with sunlight – the mild sunlight of a damp climate – and caressed by the gentle breezes of heaven.’

Orpen produced several paintings, watercolours and drawings of his family while at Howth, mainly between 1909 and about 1913. As a recent scholar has noted, during this period the artist ‘managed, on top of everything else, to produce a magnificent series of works, conceived and drawn out of doors, mainly at Howth, and taking as their subject matter the everyday human material that surrounded him.’ His favourite subjects were his wife and his two daughters; Mary, known as Bunnie, born in 1902, and her sister Christine, known as Kit, who was born in 1906. As Kit recalled in later years, ‘He paid half a crown an hour a sitting for those portraits – a fortune in those days...Only an hour at a time and then a dash along the cliffs for a bathe – golden days.’

The present sheet may be compared stylistically with a number of drawings made at Howth in 1910 and 1913, some of which were published as a portfolio of ten photogravure reproductions by the Chenil Gallery in London in c.1915.

Provenance:
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 24 June 1927, lot 70 (as ‘Sunny Weather’, sold for 55 gns. to Sampson)
Private collection
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 15 May 2003, lot 57
Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd., London
Private collection, London.

Literature:
Robert Upstone, William Orpen: Politics, Sex & Death, exhibition catalogue, London, 2005, p.151, no.90.

William ORPEN

The Artist’s Wife and Daughter on the Cliff at Howth

C038

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