Art is the creation of beautiful or significant things and throughout Ireland in the early 19th century, they were many artists that emerged and produced such art.
Roderic O’Conor was a significant, famous individual who emerged out of Ireland as the most important Irish artist of the late 19th century.
O’Conor was born in 1860 at Milton in County Roscommon. He was an immensely talented character, independent thinker and experimentalist that painted with great range and distinction. He firstly began his work at the Metropolitan School and then at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in Dublin, where he studied for one year. Like many of his contemporaries at this time, O’Conor wanted to further and broaden his horizons and artistic knowledge and in 1884, he moved from Dublin to Antwerp and then to Paris, where he became an ‘eleve de M Carolus-Duran. He never returned to Ireland. O’Conor has been called, variously, a little known member of the Pont-Aven school, an Irish Expressionist, a ‘Fauve, a master of color and even an Irish-American as you will later on, understand why.
O’Conor’s origins are obscure and his life to say the least is that of a recluse. He was a very wealthy, yet private and personal artist who rarely exhibited his work or sold any of his paintings. O’Conor was a connoisseur and a highly cultured man who remained alert all his life to current trends in art and literature in Ireland and in Europe. With a modest, yet powerful personality, O’Conor was a unique entity that strived on bridging the gap between realism and post-impressionism.
Living his entire career in France, O’Conor spent longer in France than any other Irish painter. He became completely integrated with French painters. O’Conor was associated with great names in French art, including Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, which he met in Pont Aven before 1893. This particular period in O’Conor’s life is said to be the most noteworthy chapter in his career. In the 1890’s, the most significant period in O’Conor’s life, he began painting landscapes and figure pieces, vibrant with colour, painted in a bold, impressionistic manner. His combinations of reds and greens, pinks and lilacs, oranges and maroons etc characterized his paintings. His technique gave his work an identifiable stamp in the 1890’s, but it was his use of hot colours and colour combinations that expresses his powerful yet self-doubting temperament, and gives his work its recognisable individuality.
Such a painting that portrays his personality at this time was ‘Field of Corn, Pont Even 1892’. This particular painting demonstrates his expressiveness and how he had a ribbon effect in his work. The picture captures something of the haughty dignity of the primitive peasant nature within the Village of Breton in Pont Even. The varied approaches of 19th-century artists to landscape painting provide insight into their enjoyment of the natural world. While some artists in Europe painted to capture nature’s myriad components in detail, others sought to recreate its atmospheric conditions, fleeting impressions, or to grasp its eternal essence.
O’Conor was influenced by many artists but one particular artist he greatly admired was Vincent Van Gogh as mentioned above. Van Gogh used to be a realist painter, once troubled and even suffered from paranoia. Van Gogh used primary colours and a technique of dashes of colour, which is channelled through his paintings in hoping to create swirling patterns.
When O’Conor painted ‘Field of Corn’, it portrayed a warm, delicate example of his use of parallel-hatched brushstrokes, weighed down with strong and pure colours, work Van Gogh was aspired to. O’Conor’s passion and intensity to be a fine artist shone through. He painted quickly and loosely, playing with lights and colours to create an image. He was aware of colour theory and impressionism, as he allows colours to react simultaneously if they are complementary to each other. He gives us a feeling of landscape in this piece without trying to be photographic, yet we can criticise him, in that he obtained knowledge from other realists and that the painting was portrayed as very ordinary and not very pragmatic. O’Conor explored a technique of etching through Armand Seguin, using similar rhythmic lines to those of his striped paintings. In making these etchings, O’Conor worked very spontaneously, using strong directional lines to capture the wildness of the Brittany landscape and create a sense of compressed energy.
As stated before, his work is closely linked to European trends and that of Van Gogh and even Gauguin, as the impressionist input is emphasised through the colours and light he uses and the post-impressionist influence is noticed through playing with lines and depth, yet O’Conor is still believed to remain an individual.
Gauguin was said to have urged O’Conor to depart Paris with him and set out for the South Seas but he refused because O’Conor had discovered, in the wild and isolated landscape of Brittany, a totally absorbing subject for his art. For the rest of his life, O’Conor continued to live in Brittany, Paris where he fell in love and later married a young French woman. At this time, O’Conor’s paintings were relatively traditional and straightforwardly realistic, drawing connections between realism and impressionism, some showing the influences of Gauguin and later, some anticipating tenancies such as Fauvism and expressionism, which afterwards became movements or styles.
According to Arnold, Bruce ‘A Concise History of art’ (1968) London, Thames and Hudson’ (p.) O’Conor was said to have went through 3 not very distinctive periods in his life. From 1889-1900, O’Conor’s work was strongly influenced by Vincent Van Gogh as mentioned above. His pictures utilized a stripy technique, heavy painting, with relatively subdued colours.
In 1894, after forming a close relationship with Gauguin in Pont Even, O’Conor’s technique changes. Instead of using thick paint (Impasto), which was present in his striped landscapes e.g. ‘Field of Corn’ 1892, and influenced many other artists, O’Conor employed changes in his brush marks, which became more fluid and elongated, using the paint more delicately and thinly, painting wet on wet, implementing more mixing and blending of colour on the canvas. This emphasising a feeling of apathy and indifference in creating real space and depth in the work. It has become obvious how trends, development and movements of different styles of art in Europe in the 19th century have influenced O’Conor, possibly because he fell in love with the tendency of different movement styles and techniques that France had to offer him.
From 1900-1910, it was an important part in the artist’s life. His colours became rich, strong and beautifully balanced and a highly distinctive palette emerges in his canvases. After 1910, his work becomes much more diverse, his style ranges more extensively, yet at this particular period, there was a convinced loss of intensity.
This picture of a young Breton Girl in 1906 by O’Conor was a rather weary and exhausted piece, expressing the girl’s bold stare and blunt features. Her pose is expressionless and vacant and she’s gazes suspiciously with her head slightly tilted to one side and raised. O’Conor uses complementary colours of reds and greens and reflects light and shadow in the girl’s chin and neck with his use of long stripes running down the girls face, thus heightening the emotion of the piece.
In the 19 century, O’Conor became aspired to drawing still lives rather than painting landscapes. His techniques became loose and uninterested in details. Such an example was ‘Girl reading’ 1910. (To the right) This painting, in a riot of color portrays a girl immersed in a book, totally oblivious to her surroundings.
Some criticise O’Conor here and argued that it was not a portrait because of his loosely formed technique and lack of interest.
In 1915, nude painting also became a fascination of O’Conor and his work and technique of painting again changed. In the late 19th century, the nude human figure remained a popular subject for painters and sculptors across Europe, who used it to express pleasure in both the physical nature of the body and its deeper significance in conveying spiritual meaning. ‘Reclining Nude on a chase longe’ 1915. (To the right) was a painting by O’Conor that gives viewers a different perspective of O’Conor’s personality. He used limited palette and there was strong emphasises on his contrast between light and shade.
In 1920, O’Conor painted ‘The Bathers’. This particular piece demonstrates the strong use of colour. The pure colour of yellows on both riverbanks is reaching beyond impressionism and post-impressionism, towards fauvism, this being a name for artists who were solely interested in colours and not lines and accuracy. Previously, O’Conor’s colours were always at the service of his subject matter whereas in fauvism, colour was used as an end in itself.
O’Conor, along with other Irish artists such as, Walter Osborne, Sir John Lavery and Nathaniel Hone, dominated and emerged as great artists between the period of 1850-1916, also known as the arbitrary date yet O’Conor in comparison stands out as being the most experimental and tentative as he bonded a closer, intense relationship to changes in European artistic trends.
For many centuries now, artists have looked to England and other European countries to continue their training and livelihood. For O’Conor, this was the beginning of a new life, a new way of thinking and a positive way of implementing changes learnt to create perfect movement styles, to generate rational images.
Many artists in Europe and beyond drew self-portraits of themselves. This in itself allows viewers to gain a perception of what artists were like. The most successful portraits always suggest the personalities, as well as their physical characteristics. The three portraits here allow us to see how O’Conor, Van Gogh and Gauguin portray themselves s individuals.
O’Conor’s self portrait exposes something of O’Conor’s pensive, contemplative and anti-social nature, as well as his very French appearance, his pale skin texture and complexion, dark hair, and flaccid moustache.
For want of a better model, Van Gogh chose to paint his own portrait on many occasions. While in Paris between 1886 and 1888, Van Gogh lightened his palette under the influence of the brilliant colours of the Impressionists, but he soon reserved the use of such light colours to express particular moods. Van Gogh’s stay in Paris was a relatively happy one and in this painting, created during the summer of 1887, he portrays himself with an almost light-hearted appearance.
Gauguin exemplified the restless artistic spirit. In this image, painted during a brief return to Paris from Tahiti in 1893, he plays the role of outsider, wearing the clothes and long hair of a Breton peasant rather than the suit of a Parisian. The background is divided horizontally, separating a cerebral and spiritual world from a physical and material one. His hand points toward a reproduction of a sketch by the painter Eugene Delacroix representing Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise. With this gesture Gauguin alludes to his sympathies for the distraught couple, for he was temporarily expelled from the paradise he had once discovered in Tahiti.
It would be interesting to see how Roderic O’Conor would have ended up and how his work might have developed if he had not stayed in France, and instead travelled further around Europe and later, return to Ireland. There was also the opportunity for him to explore the South Seas with Paul Gauguin but he refused.
O’Conor emerged into Europe and was influenced immensely by French artists Gauguin (Symbolism) and Van Gogh (Post impressionism). He developed a close liaison and friendship to Gauguin and some of the French artists work, helped O’Conor widen his own horizons to different trends and attitudes to art in Europe. Some critics also suggest that O’Conor did not know or have a personal relationship with Van Gogh. This Myth is left untold.
At times through O’Conor’s life (1860-1940), he was said to have departed from the traditional pursuit of reproducing an illusion of real space in paintings of subjects, choosing instead to exploit the possibilities of paint to explore the fleeting effects of nature. This was definitely the case for O’Conor and today O’Conor is regarded as one of the most important modernist painters. (According to the Hunt Museum in Limerick)
Unlike other artists, O’Conor made his life on a continent, spending all his life in France. He was influenced by impressionism and post-impressionism, in particular by Van Gogh and Gauguin and at one time Seguin, yet from my own perspective, it was clear that he was exploring his own ideas too. His work was inventive and experimental; these emphasised in his early striped paintings and in the early 20th century, in his use of vivid colours. O’Conor’s versatility as a painter in Europe is illustrated with subject matter, ranging through landscape (‘The Field of Pont Even’ 1892), to figure painting (‘Young Breton Girl’ 1906), to still life (‘Girl Reading’ 1910) and to nude painting (‘Reclining Nude on a chase longe’ 1915). His work emphasises his importance, his progressiveness, and his overall freedom of interpretation and expression throughout his life from Studying in Ireland, to travelling and living his life in France, in Europe. O’Conor today is greatly admired by many and his work influences many young artists across Europe to their own individual approaches to painting. O’Conor is known for his distinctive and richly coloured paintings and his technique of bold drawing. His work gives young artists the opportunity to judge the importance of his contribution in the late 18th and early 19th century.
Different movements of art formed and disappeared throughout Europe. Some mentioned above include the post-impressionistic work of Vincent Van Gogh, the symbolic work of Gauguin, and the expressionistic types created by Irish Artist, Roderic O’Conor, whose work as stated before, reflects the impact of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and his vivid use of colour anticipates the work of the Fauves painters, quoted by Simply Irish. Throughout the late 18th and mid 19th century, Romanticism was too, a rather important artistic and intellectual movement that originated, stressing strong emotions of art in Europe at that time. Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational and the imaginative. Eugene Delocroix was a famous french romantic painter, whose use of colour was influential in the development of both impressionism and post-impressionism in trends in europe, even inspiring modern artists nowdays in europe, such as Pablo Picasso.
Trends of arts in Europe at this time tends to be changing all the time. Many european artsists such as Delocroix etc visited England to broaden their horizans whereas we seen how painters from Ireland and England tended to travel to Europe to seek new experiences and opportunities. Observations of English, Irish and European cultures and traditions in general made a lasting impression upon those who travelled there.
Realism was too, an important movement or style emerging in Europe. It was born in a time of revolutionary upheaval across Europe in the mid-19th century. Romanticism gave way to truth and sincerity, and a belief that art should come from direct experience. French art in Europe at this time was one favoured as most accepting to trends in 19th century Europe. Success of artists and public taste soon began to change. Realists turned convention on its head to give heroic character to everyday subjects. Manet (1832-1883) scandalized the public with his images of modern life.
Impressionists tried to capture fleeting effects of light and atmosphere. Manet, like Roderic O’Conor found a flare to painting still life paintings at one point in his career. During the 19th century and early 20th both Paris and Europe developed new trends to art, giving it a new look. Urban renovations had opened the wide avenues and parks we know today, and painting was transformed when artists abandoned the transparent glazes and blended brush strokes of the past and turned their attention to life around them. Contemporary urban subjects and a bold style, which offered paint on the canvas as something to be admired within itself, giving art a strong new sense of the present.