Andrew O’Connor

The Wife


Not on display

Andrew O’Connor 1874–1941
Object: 1587 × 1003 × 495 mm
Presented anonymously 1931


Sculpted by the American artist Andrew O’Connor, The Wife c.1923 is a large bronze sculpture of a kneeling female figure. This veiled, supplicant woman is dressed in loose, draped fabric, with her head bowed and arms clasped in prayer. The figure kneels on a base which is inscribed with the phrase ‘As cranes / chanting / their dolorous / notes traverse / the sky’, a translated quote from Canto V of Inferno from Dante’s fourteenth-century epic poem Divine Comedy.

O’Connor intended The Wife to be part of a larger sculpture in Washington, D.C., commemorating the First World War. This was not commissioned but O’Connor continued to develop the idea and worked on the component elements – which would have had the overarching title The Arrival – until 1931. The monument was never completed in its entirety but plans for it indicate that the final composition would have comprised three parts: firstly, the three bronze sculptures The Wife, The Mother and The Victim; secondly, a large, ornate, decorative niche depicting a young woman holding a flower in her left hand; and thirdly, a mausoleum titled Temple of the Virgin (see Potterton 1974, p.45). A version of the first section of the sculpture, comprised of the three figures, is installed in Merrion Square Park in Dublin. Accompanying The Wife, The Victim represents the figure of a dead soldier and The Mother is seen standing over him. In the plan for the larger sculpture these figures would have been arranged on different planes, with The Mother placed at ground level, with her right arm on the plinth of The Victim and The Wife positioned on the other side of the bier, facing the feet of The Victim. The version of The Wife in the Tate collection was gifted to the museum anonymously in 1931.

The Wife has also sometimes been known as The Virgin or The Mother of Sorrows. In a letter from the writer George C. Curnock to J.B. Manson, the director of Tate at the time of the work’s acquisition, O’Connor is quoted as saying of the sculpture’s inscription that it is a translation of Dante ‘which I read in King’s Road, Chelsea, thirty-five years ago, and haven’t seen since’ (George C. Curnoc, letter to J.B. Manson, 28 March 1931, Tate Acquisition file, Andrew O’Connor, 4/2/786/1). The verse is from the fifth canto of the Inferno cantica of Dante’s Divine Comedy and, according to writer E.A. Bucchianeri, refers to ‘the second circle of Hell where the souls damned for their carnal lusts are tossed about in the dark by furious tempests’ (E.A. Bucchianeri, Faust: My Soul be Damned for the World, vol.2, Bloomington 2008, p.406).

Having spent the early part of his career in London and Paris, O’Connor moved to Massachusetts in 1914 where he kept a studio in Paxton until the mid-1920s. The majority of the work for The Arrival is likely to have been done in this studio. During the thirteen years in which he was working on The Arrival O’Connor was also making several other large-scale public sculptures including The Lafayette Monument 1924, a bronze equestrian statue of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, in Mount Vernon Place, Baltimore; Tristan and Iseult (Brooklyn Museum, New York), for which the artist won the Paris Salon’s gold medal in 1928; and Lincoln 1930, a bust created for the Royal Exchange, London.

Art historian and writer Homan Potterton notes that the last period of O’Connor’s life was spent in London and Dublin where he continued work on The Arrival and Triple Cross, another uncompleted memorial. Potterton argues that these projects have ‘elements which hark back to O’Connor’s earliest works’ (Potterton 1974, p.21), which were influenced both by his time spent in Paris working as an assistant in the studio of John Singer Sargent and by his studies of the work of sculptors Auguste Rodin and Jules Dalou.

Further reading
William Walton, ‘Andrew O’Connor, Sculptor’, Scribner’s Magazine, no.45, 1909, p.640.
Homan Potterton, Andrew O’Connor, 1874–1941, exhibition catalogue, Trinity College, Dublin 1974.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, p.567, reproduced p.567.

Phoebe Roberts
June 2017

Supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

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Catalogue entry

Andrew O'Connor 1874-1941

N04574 The Wife c.1923

Inscribed 'AS CRANES | CHANTING | THEIR DOLOROUS | NOTES TRAVERSE | THE SKY' on base Bronze, 62 1/2 x 39 1/2 x 19 1/2 (158.5 x 100 x 49.5)
Presented anonymously 1931
Prov: Purchased by the donor from the artist
Lit: Hélène Desmaroux, L'Oeuvre du Sculpteur O'Connor (Paris 1927), pp.111-18, repr. p.110 as 'La Femme', again p.117; Edouard-Joseph, Dictionnaire Biographique des Artistes Contemporains 1910-30 (Paris 1934), Vol.3, pp.86-7, repr. p.90 as 'Mère des Douleurs' 1923; Homan Potterton in exh. catalogue Andrew O'Connor 1874-1941, Trinity College, Dublin, September 1974, pp.21, 45

The inscription is taken from a translation of Dante's Inferno, Canto V: the Paolo and Francesca vision.

This is a figure for a proposed war memorial for Washington, DC, on which O'Connor was working from about 1918 until at least 1931. His son Hector O'Connor wrote (15 September 1958) that this monument was not accepted, but as the sculptor liked his design for it, he carried it out, full size, in his spare time. The theme was the return of the body of a hero to his native land, mourned over by his wife and mother.

The Mother (a standing figure) was to have been placed approximately on ground level, leaning her right arm on the plinth of the Victim's bier, near his head; the kneeling figure, also approximately on ground level, on the other side of the bier, also near the Victim's head and facing his feet. Homan Potterton has pointed out that this group was apparently intended to be placed in front of a colossal mausoleum, with a highly decorated niche in which a young woman is standing, who possibly represents the Motherland.

'The Wife' has also sometimes been known as 'The Virgin' or 'The Mother of Sorrows'. There is another bronze cast in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, which also owns bronzes of 'The Victim' and 'The Mother of a Hero', all presented by the artist or his family.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.567, reproduced p.567

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