Artist biography

Irish painter. He attended the Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin (1891–7), and the Slade School of Art, London (1897–9). He became a friend of Augustus John and joined the New English Art Club.. The influence of Velázquez, in particular, is apparent in such early genre subjects as The Mirror (1900; London, Tate). His bravura portrait style was probably also indebted to Manet: his Homage to Manet (1909; Manchester, C.A.G.) was a group portrait of members of the New English Art Club, including Philip Wilson Steer, Walter Richard Sickert, Dugald Sutherland MacColl and Henry Tonks, sitting beneath Manet's portrait of Eva Gonzalès (London, N.G.). Orpen was financially one of the most successful, and eventually one of the most honoured, portrait painters working in Britain in the twentieth century.

In 1917 Orpen was appointed an Official War Artist. An exhibition of his war paintings, watercolours and drawings was held in London in the spring of 1918.In his illustrations to An Onlooker in France, 1917–1919 (1921), Orpen depicted scenes of trench warfare, often in grim detail, but he found it difficult in his larger paintings to come to terms with the broader implications of the war. He received a knighthood in June 1918 and was elected ARA in 1910 and RA in 1921. Orpen's production of paintings and drawings, in spite of the relative brevity of his life, is impressively large: he worked quickly and drew almost daily, usually for long hours.

Bibliography
P. G. Konody and S. Dark: William Orpen: Artist and Man (London, 1932)
J. Rothenstein: Sickert to Smith, i of Modern English Painters (London, 1952, rev. 1984), pp. 212–27
William Orpen, 1878–1931: A Centenary Exhibition (exh. cat., researched by V. Ryan; intro. J. White; Dublin, N.G., 1978)
B. Arnold: Orpen: Mirror to an Age (London, 1981)

JOHN ROTHENSTEIN

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