Painters I should have known about (006) William Orpen part 2

I hope you got a good feeling about William Orpen, (the man), as well as Orpen (the painter) from my previous post about Orpen and his series of intriguing self portraits here, because now we are going to study: Orpen and his Women!

Despite his lack of self confidence regarding his looks, Orpen was able to enjoy a series of fulfilling relationships with women all through his brief life. Sometimes he would be conducting these intimate relationships with more than one partner at a time.

Let’s take as a starting point this picture that Orpen painted while still a student at the Slade school of art, in 1900. (Click on thumbnail to enlarge.)
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The Mirror 1900

It’s full of complex references. First off, there’s the Whistler-like composition. Next, in the mirror’s reflection Orpen sits at his easel, an echo of Velasquez’s Las Meninas, and Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage, (Have a close look at that candelabra).
You can just make out a young woman peering at the painting in progress. Who is she? Is this the sitter, Emily Scobel, to whom Orpen was engaged, or could it be Grace Knewstub, the woman who Orpen became besotted with while he was still engaged to Emily?

This picture was shown at the New English Art Club in 1900.

Orpen kept this next painting to himself for all his life. It is an intimate portrait of Emily Scobel, the young girl featured in The Mirror (above) who modelled at the Slade.
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The English Nude.

The English Nude contains a reference to a painting that Orpen had seen the previous year at the Louvre in 1898, Rembrandt’s Bathsheba
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Rembrandt’s Bathsheba.

Orpen was good friends with Augustus John who was a fellow Sade student, and the two of them frequently went carousing together. Their trips in search of fun often led them over the Channel to France.
Here they are together in the pub, presumably somewhere in London.
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In The Pub.


In August 1901 Orpen married Grace Knewstub, who later became Lady Orpen when her husband was knighted in 1918 for his work as a war artist.

Her brother was Jack Knewstub, proprietor of the Chenil Gallery where Orpen used to buy canvases that had a distinctive “signature” mark.

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Lady Orpen.

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Night (No. 2) depicts the sitting room of Orpen’s house in London.
It shows Orpen’s wife arching back towards him to share a kiss. They were married six years before Night (no.2) was painted.

William and Grace Orpen had three children together; Christine, Diana and Mary, who were all childless.

Favourite Models

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Lottie of Paradise Walk.

Lottie Stafford was a washerwoman from the run down area of Paradise Walk in Chelsea. She was a popular model because of her naturalness, complete self-assurance and subtle sensuality, even though she declined to pose in the nude.

Orpen was particularly drawn to her ‘swan-neck’ which he emphasised in this work below.
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Note the masterly modelling with light of her face, neck and hands.

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The Wash House.

Vera Hone was Orpen’s all time favourite model. She and her husband lived next door to the Orpen’s for about a year.
Orpen was a little besotted with Vera, as were many other artists. She modelled for so many paintings that Orpen began to use a numbering system rather than keep on inventing titles for his pictures of her.
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Roscommon Dragoon.

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Mrs Hone in a Striped Dress.

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The Angler. 1912

The Big Affair

1908 was the year in which Orpen started his long love affair with the subject of the painting below, Mrs Evelyn St George.

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Mrs Evelyn St George.

“Mrs St George was an American, the daughter and eldest child of George F. Baker, president of the National Bank of America, and a man of immense wealth.

Their love affair was on a grand scale. It was hugely significant to both of them. The coming together of wealth on the one hand, genius on the other had an electrifying effect.”

“Evelyn St George had a flat in Berkeley Square, and the lovers met and stayed there, appearing with increasing frequency in London society.

This was commented upon in the press. Evelyn St George was over six feet tall. Orpen was just over five feet tall. They became known as “Jack and the Beanstalk”.

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Clonsilla & Mrs St George (Clonsilla is the name of the St George’s house in Ireland)

Orpen fathered one of Mrs St George’s children, Vivien. When Vivien is fully grown she describes how the boudoir expressed her mother’s “marked predeliction for oddities”:

`Some people applauded my mother’s sublime disregard for the stuffier conventions, but many more frowned on such practices as entertaining all but her most casual acquaintances – or those she simply didn’t like – in her bedroom.

I think this was unreasonable of them, for Mama’s were not like ordinary bedrooms at all. By dint of tearing down a wall here, raising a ceiling there, she ensured that they eventually became the largest and grandest rooms in any house she occupied, and it was here that my mother hung her favourite pictures’ [Orpen, Goya and El Greco amongst others].

`Here too were to be found her finest jades and crystal, and here, on its raised dais dominating the whole fantastic apartment, stood the great four-poster bed with its garlands and medallions painted by Angelica Kauffman.’ [Evelyn was `fit to be tied’ when it was discovered that the `monster bed’ was too large for the Berkeley Square apartment that the St. Georges were to occupy from 1912, but Orpen came to her rescue and painted her a smaller replica.]

Vivien continues: `It was not the presence of this bed alone that drove my mother’s detractors into such sweet ecstasies of speculation. No indeed. These were reserved for another truly titillating piece of furniture – the day-bed that jutted into the room from the shadows of a corner near the fireplace.

Luxuriantly upholstered, drowned in rich cushions, it was quite capable of accomodating two adults, a Great Dane, one small child, an alligator and a monkey. I should know – I was the child.’

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The Empty Bed

Orpen was invited to stay on a regular basis, ostensibly to paint the St George family’s portraits.
Here’s one of many he produced of Gardenia, Mrs St George’s eldest daughter.

She became aware of her mother’s love affair and was distressed by it. She made some comment to her grandfather, the American banker, and he intervened and put a stop to his daughter’s (Mrs St George) relationship with Orpen.

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Gardenia St George With Riding Crop

Yvonne Aubicq

In 1916 William Orpen became an official War Artist alongside Paul Nash, Muirhead Bone and Wyndham Lewis.
We’ll have a look at this fascinating period of his career in the next episode, Part 3.

Some of Orpen’s most famous portraits from the war were those of his mistress Yvonne Aubicq, which he first humorously entitled ‘The Spy’, and then, having to rename them after a court martial, ‘The Refugee’.
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The Refugee

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The Refugee 2

Orpen and Aubicq continued their affair for a decade, and when Orpen finally split with her, he gave her his latest Rolls-Royce.

The chauffeur, Grover, went with the car, as was the custom; Yvonne promptly married him and he became a racing driver.

In the next war they both had a heroic Resistance record; he was tortured and killed by the Gestapo. She survived to become a celebrated breeder and judge of Highland terriers, regularly featuring at Crufts.

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Yvonne Aubicq as a Nun

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Yvonne Aubicq, Hotel Dannou 1918

We’ll draw a discreet veil over how many of Orpen’s other models he slept with, but note that contemporary accounts report these to have been numerous.

Bridget Elvery

As far as I can ascertain,Orpen’s relationship with Miss Elvery remained close but strictly platonic.

Beatrice Elvery, a sculpture student, developed a friendship with Orpen when she first met him at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1897.

In later years Orpen was based in London and Beatrice had her own studio in Kildare Street, Dublin but they continued their friendship via their correspondence with each other. He would address her as ‘Bridgit’ and would sign himself as ‘Digit’.
You can see facsimiles of their correspondence here.

In 1912 she married Patrick Campbell, who later became 2nd Baron Glenavy, and she became Lady Glenavy. Patrick Campbell enjoyed a long career in radio, despite having an almost debilitating stammer. He was one of the finest wits I have ever heard.

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Bridget Elvery, Lady Glenavy

Next time (as hinted above): Orpen the War Artist!

Chris Appelhans

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Monster House Concept Painting

Chris Appelhans of Froghat Studio has posted some of the amazing work he has done for Monster House which will be released in the UK from 11th of August.

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Monster House Concept Painting

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Monster House Concept Painting

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Monster House Concept Painting

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Monster House Concept Painting

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Monster House Characters Concept Painting

Have a good look around his website, there’s a huge amount to see.

He also sells prints of his work through Nucleus Gallery. Use the search box to find his work.

Johannes Itten’s Colour Theory

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The basic colour wheel

Colour, Contrast and Dimension in News Design” is, by web standards at least, an ancient website, but is still as relevant today as on the day it was first published in 2001.
It’s an interactive version of a book on designing for print.

As one of the authors, Pegie Stark Adam states:

This interactive color experience is for anyone who wants to know more about color theory and how it applies to the design of news. Interactivity is built into the experience so that the viewer can click through exercises that show how we respond to color in a physiological way.

For example, the viewer is allowed to change colors in paintings and news pages to alter the meaning and mood; the viewer is taken through an exercise on after-image where it is explained through a hands-on exercise why we see green, a complementary color, after staring at red, a primary color; and the viewer is able to demonstrate on their own how changing a color’s background, or environment, can change the color’s tone, brilliance and intensity.

While there is a great deal of fascinating material on this site, it has to be said that the Flash interface makes the experience completely maddening because you often want to use the Back button, but it does not work!

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Interactive colour intensity tool

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Interactive colour temperature tool

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Complementary colour tool

Jon Stewart on top form

You might remember Jon Stewart as the host of this year’s Oscars ceremonies. frequently shows clips of Jon Stewart doing his day job at The Daily Show, and this particular post shows Jon ripping apart the Bush hypocrisy on stem cell research.


UK comedy fans might be interested to know that the lugubrious British comedian, Dave Gorman is now making regular appearances on the Daily Show.

OneGoodMove has a well earned place in my links.

Studio Mattei

This must surely be one of the biggest painting studios in the world, but the pride and reputation of the artists who work there is not just based on the gigantic scale of their work, but in their formidable craft tradition and artistic achievement.

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The Mattei Srl Studio, Rome, Italy
(Click on the thumbnail for a huge enlargement.)

The studio was established as a scenery painting workshop in 1986 by Sylvano Mattei, who had been working as a scene painter since the 1940’s under the guidance of Camillo Parravicini, and Pietro Gariboldi.

In 1986 he was joined by his sons, Fabio, Luca and Fabrizio, to found the new studio.

As you can see from the picture above, the scale of the paintings they undertake for opera houses, theatres and film sets is truly daunting in scale.

Just look at the size of the brushes they use:
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Brush rack
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More big brushes on a rack

Size isn’t everything, of course, and the artists in the Mattei studios really have to be on top of their game when it comes to the sheer skill of painting on such a huge scale.

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Painting a detail

Notice the enormous straightedge used for painting straight lines.

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Palais Garnier
The new historic drop curtain for the Palais Garnier (Paris 1995)

The new painted curtain was created in Paris at the old set painting workshop of the Opéra National. The lambrequin (a large decorative pelmet) alone measures 18 m. wide and 14.5 m. high. It is currently mounted in the Sala Garnier with the original lambrequin painted by Rubé, probably around 1875.

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Palais Garnier

Another colossal curtain. This time it’s the Théâtre de L’Athénée, Paris 1998
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Théâtre de L’Athénée

While I have no conceptual difficulty about how the paint ends up in the right place on the canvas, what mystifies me a little is how the drawings arrive to size and in scale on these huge surfaces.
If you know the answer, please use the comment box to enlighten me! (And the rest of us!).

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The Magic Flute, AD 2000

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Un ballo in maschera, 1988

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Detail layout

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The Magic Flute

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Lucia di Lammermoor

It’s worth your time to dig around on the site. You will discover how the painters tackled repainting and redecorating the Fenice Opera House in Venice after the disastrous fire.
There are several low res Quicktime movie clips and some QTVR panoramas to look at, if you search hard enough.

Here’s the link!

Oxford Botanic Garden

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Heliconia spp.

I spent some time in Oxford last weekend at a family wedding, and on Sunday visited the Oxford Botanic Garden. This is strictly a teaching garden, yet it still manages to combine beauty with academic presentation.

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Leaf Scars

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Cannabis sativa
This is the hemp plant, now being grown again in the UK as a mainstream crop for fibre production used in textiles and papermaking. All the psychoactive (THC) component has been bred out for commercial growing. It still smells good though.

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Solanum spp
I cannot remember the species name of this Solanum, but I was seized by the colour harmony.

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Waterlily and dragonfly
There were many of these small, electric blue dragonflies darting, hovering and mating in the hot sunshine.

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Waterlily flower and Euryale leaf
The leaf in the background belongs to an aquatic waterlily-like plant called Euryale ferox

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Victoria lily
The large floating leaf in the background is that of the Victoria Lily.

As a boy I saw a picture in a book of this amazing plant. It showed a small befrocked Edwardian girl, a floppy bow in her hair and a simpering expression on her face, sitting on a Victoria Lily leaf to demonstrate that it could support the weight of a small child.
The gigantic leaf can grow to 6 feet (2 metres) in diameter.

By the time I saw Victoria regia in real life, I was sadly much too big and heavy to try sitting on it, with or without a bow in my hair…