William Orpen was the last of the great society painters, succeeding Sargent and becoming, in his turn, the most successful artist of his day. He was also the wealthiest, earning staggering sums each year from portrait commissions. Born in Dublin, he grew up during the Parnell era, and its tensions left an indelible impression of his uncertain roots: cultural loyalty to Ireland, political loyalty to Britain, ultimate loyalty only to himself. He was an exceptional student, first in Dublin, then at the Slade, carrying off medals and prizes, exploring in early works of great brilliance the impact of teachers and contemporaries, among them Walter Osborne, Henry Tonks, Philip Wilson Steer and Augustus John. A realist, enormously hard-working, and devoured by an interest in people, he set out during the first decade of this century to establish himself as a portrait painter. He did so with an instinctive feeling for character, as well as warmth and sentiment, 'Not the painting of a man, but the painting of a man's soul,' was how Winston Churchill described his own portrait, one of the maturity. He had a passionate nature. It led to the disruption of his marriage, though he did try, with uncertain success, to keep up the form of it for the sake of his children, whom he adored. At one point Orpen was firmly committed to a ravishingly beautiful French mistress - his 'bebe blonde' - in Paris. He had other love affairs with models. And most remarkable of all was the long and at times scandalous liaison with an American heiress, Mrs Ts George, by whom he had a child. More than six foot tall, to Orpen's stocky five foot three, she was flamboyant and willful, and very much the Edwardian society hostess. The two f them became known in London as 'Jack and the beanstalk'. Orpen's perception, from which his success in portraiture derived, came from his detached objectivity. An Irishman, successful in England, he was never entirely accepted in either country. Active in the Irish Cultural Renascence, he was a friend of its leading figures, many of whom he painted: George Moore, 'AE', Lady Gregory, Hugh Lane, as well as Irish political leaders. In 1917 the same perception produced a remarkable body of drawings and paintings of the First World War which gained him the title of 'the Samuel Pepys of the Western Front'. The works constitute one of the great visual documents of the war, a complex tapestry of battles, disasters, wastelands, mutilated corpses, portraits of generals, prisoners, the fighting men, and the politicians at the Peace Conference that followed. Throughout the 1920s Orpen dominated the social scene, far more famous than his wealthy and illustrious sitters. His output was phenomenal, his earnings among the highest of any painter at any time. He was dapper, beautifully dressed in his hand-made shoes and silk shirts, his Saville Row sits, and his silver-topped cane. His enthusiasm for leg-pulling, his adopted soubriquet, "ickle Orps', were more suited to music-hall entertainer than to a great painter. Yet behind the practical jokes and Irish stories there lay the shadow of death and experience, toil, passion and fulfillment. 'A handful of his paintings are among the great and original works of art of this century,' writes Bruce Arnold. 'A score or so more are major statements, both in portraiture and the genre subjects to which Orpen turned his talent. A profusion of drawings reveals fluency ad softness, together with an acute observation, that few English artists have equaled.'
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Bruce Arnold was born in London and educated at Kingham Hill School in Oxfordshire where he read Modern Languages. He is a journalist, the author of A Concise History of Irish Art and two novels, A Singer at the Wedding and its sequel, The Song of the Nightingale. A third novel, The Muted Swan, is to be published later in 1981. He lives outside Dublin.
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Descrizione libro Jonathan Cape, 1982. Hardcover. Condizione libro: New. Codice libro della libreria DADAX0224015818