Roderic O'Conor - Girl reading

Roderic O'Conor

Girl reading

Oil on canvas: 21.5(h) x 25.7(w) in /

54.6(h) x 65.4(w) cm

Stamped on the reverse and twice on the stretcher: atelier O'Conor

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BV 175



Milltown, Co. Roscommon, Ireland 1860 – 1940 Nueil-sur-Layon, Maine-et-Loire, France


Girl reading


Stamped on the reverse and twice on the stretcher: atelier O’Conor

Oil on canvas: 21 ½ x 25 ¾ in / 54.6 x 65.4 cm

Frame size: 30 x 34 in / 76.2 x 86.4 cm

In a Louis XIV style carved and gilded frame

Painted circa 1907-8



Studio of the artist;

Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 7th February 1956

Roland, Browse and Delbanco, London

Colonel Plunket, 19th Baron of Dunsany, acquired from the above in 1957, then by descent

Lady Dunsany



London, Roland, Browse and Delbanco, Roderic O’Conor Paintings: collector’s drawings, 19th and 20th Century, March-April 1957, no.13

London, Barbican Art Gallery, Roderic O’Conor 1860-1940, 12th September – 3rd November 1985, no.54, illus. in colour p.32; this exhibition then toured to the Belfast, Ulster Museum, 15th November 1985 – 18th January 1986; Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, 30th January – 8th March 1986 and Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, 14th March – 10th May 1986



Jonathan Benington, Roderic O’Conor: A Biography, with a catalogue of his work, Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 1992, no.117, p.204



When O’Conor took on a studio in Paris around 1901, the fact that he settled in the district of Montparnasse bore personal significance for him. His former teacher Charles-Émile-Auguste Durand, known as Carolus-Duran (1837-1917), occupied premises just off the Boulevard Montparnasse, whilst Katherine McCausland, an Irish painter friend, was a close neighbour. And, perhaps most significantly, Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) had kept a studio at 6, rue Vercingétorix during 1894-5, a period when he and O’Conor maintained regular and friendly contact. The vivid chrome yellow walls of Gauguin’s atelier were decorated not only with his own paintings, ceramics and wood carvings, but also with works by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, alongside exotic objects from diverse cultures.


Upon establishing his own studio at 102 rue du Cherche-midi half a dozen years later, O’Conor likewise set out to create an environment in which he could draw, paint, pose his models and display items from his burgeoning private art collection. He already possessed originals by Pierre Bonnard, Amedeo Modigliani and Gauguin, besides adding a range of decorative items that included swathes of brightly coloured fabrics, Oriental vases, Delft apothecary jars and hand-painted faïence from Quimper in Brittany. The blue-and-white Chinese vase standing on the windowsill just behind the model in Girl reading was a particular favourite of the artist, who featured it in many still lifes including Le pot chinois which was purchased from him in 1927 by the Musée du Jeu de Paume (now Musée d’Orsay).


Of all O’Conor’s Parisian pictures, Girl reading offers one of the best insights into the way he organised the studio space that served him as a workplace and home for three decades. The reclining figure, wearing a long dress and seated on a chaise longue with her book facing the windows behind, is within touching distance of well stocked shelves, three large vases and a sculpture of a nude female figure (its gestures echo those seen in the reliefs from the Javanese temple of Borobodur that so influenced Gauguin). O’Conor doubtless lent the model one of the books from his extensive private library, for he was a talented amateur bibliophile.


O’Conor has chosen to direct his gaze downwards, thereby cropping the tall studio windows and wooden beams located beneath the ceiling. This strategy ensures his young model is not overwhelmed by her surroundings, on the contrary she conveys the impression of solitary relaxation within an intimate setting. The space is truncated by placing the figure close to the party wall that divided the studio from the living quarters, with the statue supported on a glazed cabinet that housed more vulnerable collectables. O’Conor’s artifice allows the viewer to imagine that his subject is thoroughly at home within this interior, and furthermore that she is unaware of the artist’s gaze and his presence just in front of her.


Accessing O’Conor’s studio in 1989, when it was still occupied by the painter Edouard MacAvoy (1905-1991) who took it over from the Irish artist in 1933, revealed a space that was much more capacious than the present work suggests. Roger Fry’s daughter Pamela Diamand, who called on O’Conor in the 1920s, recalled that it was “a great big barn of a space” and not at all conducive to the receiving and entertaining of visitors. Unusually for a Parisian studio, the large windows faced south-west rather than north, thereby allowing sunlight into the space from mid-afternoon onwards. O’Conor took advantage of the building’s orientation in Girl reading by depicting a beam of sunshine entering the room and lighting up the model’s skirts, her left hand and parts of the floor, thereby endowing the figure with brighter, more radiant colours than the room setting itself. In order to further reinforce the relaxed, casual ambience, the artist has deployed throughout the picture the same type of loose, calligraphic brushwork that he used for the first time in his Breton seascapes from a decade earlier. Unblended streaks of paint have been wristily superimposed over lightly stained areas of colour, ensuring a lively surface that also evokes the handling of O’Conor’s discovery of 15 years earlier, Vincent van Gogh, as seen for example in that artist’s portraits.


At the time this canvas was painted O’Conor was in his late forties. He had been living and painting in France as an expatriate for twenty years, choosing to spend much of his time in Brittany where he befriended Gauguin and met Auguste Renoir. Swapping Pont-Aven for Paris in 1904 marked a new chapter in his life – one that gave him first-hand access to the newest and most radical developments in art such as Fauvism and Cubism. Yet O’Conor remained true to his principles of rendering observed forms faithfully in natural light, whilst treating colour and mark-making with expressive if not anarchic freedom. Eminent critics and patrons took an interest in his work at this time, sensing perhaps his legacy as the greatest Irish colourist of his generation. Amongst them were members of the Bloomsbury Group, the Irish art dealer and collector Sir Hugh Lane, and the Russian art collector Ivan Morozov. In 1905 the latter purchased Repos, another painting by O’Conor of a young woman in an interior, for his pioneering modern collection (now State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg).


Jonathan Benington


Roderic O’Conor, A quiet read, c. 1907-8                           Roderic O’Conor, Le pot chinois,

Stamped, Oil on canvas: 46 x 55.5 cm                               Oil on canvas: 65 x 49.5 cm

National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin                                  Musee d’Orsay, Paris




Photographs of Roderic O’Conor’s Chinese vase and studio space taken by Jonathan Benington, 1989


















Milltown, Co. Roscommon, Ireland 1860 – 1940 Nueil-sur-Layon, Maine-et-Loire, France


Roderic O’Conor was the son of the High Sheriff of County Roscommon. He was educated at Ampleforth College, Yorkshire and studied in Dublin at the Metropolitan School of Art and the Royal Hibernian Academy School. He then attended the Antwerp Academy and went to Brittany to paint. O’Conor worked with Carolus Duran in Paris and in 1889 painted at Grez-sur-Loing.

In the 1890s O’Conor worked mostly in Brittany, strongly influenced by van Gogh and the Pont Aven group. He became a close friend of Gauguin when he returned from the South Seas in 1894. For the rest of his life O’Conor lived in Paris, making trips into the French countryside to paint landscapes. In the first decade of the twentieth century he made several journeys to Brittany, staying at Pont Aven and Rochefort-en-Terre. He also made sensitive, intimiste interiors which echo the work of Bonnard.


O’Conor exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris, La Libre Esthetique in Brussels and at the Allied Artists’ Association in London. His visits to the South of France, particularly to Cassis in 1913, encouraged him to experiment with the bold colours and handling of Fauvism. In the 1920s O’Conor acted as host to a number of Bloomsbury Group painters, among them Matthew Smith. In 1933 he married the painter Renée Honta and they moved to Nueil-sur-Layon in the region of Maine-et-Loire. In 1935 and 1936 O’Conor worked in Spain and the following year he staged his only one-man exhibition, at the Galerie Bonaparte, Paris.


The work of Roderic O’Conor is represented in the Art Institute of Chicago; the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD; Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Ulster Museum, Belfast; Dublin City Gallery (The Hugh Lane); the Hunt Museum, Limerick and Charleston, East Sussex.

Modern BritishRoderic O'Conor