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March 4, 2013
Ballsbridge, Dublin, IrelandLive Auction
Lot 36: Roderic O'Conor (1860-1940) NATURE MORTE, c.1909(219 views)
Description: signed and dated upper left; signed, titled and dated on reverse; with original price [15.00 frs] and numbered  on reverse
This group of eleven oil paintings and etchings by Roderic O'Conor spans thirty years of the artist's career, encompassing many of his favourite subjects and deploying the entire repertoire of expressive gestures and marks and the high-keyed palette for which he has become famous. The collection moves in time as well as place: from the windswept rocky coastline of Finistère in 1893 (see lots 42 & 44), to the shaded, tree-lined roads near Barbizon in 1902, to the life models and domestic objects of O'Conor's Parisian studio, and finally to the craggy peaks of the Côte d'Azur. There is even a work that melds the normally distinct genres of figure and landscape, namely the lithograph Two Women in Profile in a Landscape (lot 42), the descriptive title of which belies its innovative conception and its boldly simplified forms.
O'Conor's experimental rigour pervades this entire group of works - he was never a man to go for the easy option of academic realism. With their impulsive, whipped lines, the four etchings evince the clash of the elements on the storm-torn coast of Brittany, an alien and barren terrain that acquires, at the hands of O'Conor, the appearance of a lunar landscape. When he positions the horizon line lower down the copper plate, he manages to make even the clouds appear tortured. At this early date (1893), the Irishman was looking to Van Gogh for inspiration, especially the rhythmic bands of pure colour that energised the Dutchman's St Remy and Arles landscapes. In 1908 O'Conor would pay verbal tribute to Van Gogh's paintings as "wonderful examples of expression of character pushed to the point of hallucination." Just a few years earlier, on a visit to Montigny-sur-Loing, he articulated the foliage, sky and grassy bank of his oil painting, Avenue of Trees (lot 39) with alternating stripes of colour, just as he had done a decade earlier in Pont-Aven.
Whilst the predominant mood of these early works might be characterised as controlled anarchy, at least in the handling of paint, O'Conor was also capable of extracting subtlety and understatement from his colours. This is nowhere more apparent than in Chrysanthemums (lot 38), dating from 1896, when he was rethinking his art in the solitude of the little Breton town of Rochefort-en-terre. Here the feathery touch and carefully orchestrated colour harmonies (red predominating) recall no-one so much as Auguste Renoir, who visited Pont-Aven with his family in 1892 and was eulogised in the exchange of letters between Armand Seguin and O'Conor later in the decade. Similarly, the way O'Conor contrasts the softly blended brushstrokes describing the limbs and torso of the nude in Nu allongé (lot 37) with a more painterly approach in the foreground recalls Renoir's late paintings of bathers.
O'Conor's affinity for the primitive life Brittany offered sometimes found an echo in pictures from his early years in Paris. In Nature morte (lot 36) of 1909, hand-painted Breton faïence, a white napkin and some fruit are partnered with an English posset pot, creating a homely assemblage that recalls, in its carefully articulated geometry, Cézanne's famous admonition to "treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone." A few years later in date, the small panel painting Montagne Sainte-Victoire (lot 43) demonstrates how the lure of the South, as celebrated in Cézanne's landscapes of his native Aix-en-Provence, became too much for O'Conor to resist. Here, using colour modulations at the expense of detail, he achieves the monumental, notwithstanding the small scale.
In the years following the WWI, O'Conor continued to paint female models and still lifes, albeit without returning to the Post-Impressionist idiom of his pre-war years. This new development is demonstrated to good effect in Seated Model (lot 40), where the dramatic transverse lighting and the use of the palette knife to accentuate the modelling of forms are in keeping with the methods of the so-called École de Paris - painters such as Dunoyer de Segonzac, Chaïm Soutine and Maurice de Vlaminck. In the background of O'Conor's portrait one can just glimpse his cast of Daumier's bronze sculpture, Les emigrants, as if by way of homage from one dedicated interpreter of the human clay to another.
M. Zeitline, Paris;
The Collection of Mervyn & Pat Solomon
Dimensions: h:18 w:22in.
Artist or Maker: Roderic (1860-1940)
Exhibited: Salon d'Automne, Paris, 1909, no. 132; 'Roderic O'Conor Room', Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, 1995-2000
Literature: Johnston, Roy, Roderic O'Conor Vision and Expression, 1996, p.48-49
Medium: oil on canvas
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March 4, 2013
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