Artists‎ > ‎

Roderic O'Conor

o'conor stamps
 First Day Cover in honour of Roderic O'Conor

Of all well-known Irish artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, the one who had the longest association with France in general and Paris in particular was probably Roderic O’Conor (Milton, Co. Roscommon, 1860-Nueil-sur-Layon, 1940).

Of “landed” background, O’Conor had little need to sing for his supper. The death of his father in 1893 saw him inherit a considerable estate in Roscommon. Rents from this estate—and its sale to the Land Commission in 1910— meant he felt no great urge to sell his artistic output as the years went by. O’Conor studied first in Dublin and then Antwerp, but in 1886 he followed in the footsteps of another Irish artist, Frank O’Meara (Carlow, 1853-1888), by coming to Paris to study under the society portraitist, Carolus-Duran at 88, boulevard de Port Royal (14th arrondissement, building no longer exists). O’Conor took lodgings at 4, rue Darcet (17th arrondissement, building no longer exists) but in 1887 left Paris for Pont-Aven in Brittany where he formed part of the circle of artists surrounding Paul Gauguin. In 1889-1890 he again followed in the footsteps of his compatriots Frank O’Meara and John Lavery by moving to the artist colony established at Grez-sur-Loing 70 km south of Paris. Around this time, O’Conor may also have met Vincent Van Gogh.
 Frank O'Meara
In Grez, O’Conor stayed with other artists in the Hôtel Beauséjour, which then became the Pension Laurent, at 124 bis, Rue Wilson. He came into contact with a colony of Nordic artists, largely based in the same street at the Hôtel Chevillon, and he became briefly engaged to the Swedish painter Eva Löwstädt.
O'Connor 1 Hotel Laurent
 The former Pension Laurent
O’Conor spent most of the 1890s at various places in Brittany, but in 1902, he moved back to the Paris region, pitching his tent for a while at Montigny, just beside Grez-sur-Loing and Bourron-Marlotte, where Nathaniel Hone the Younger had lived some 25 years before. After another spell in Pont-Aven, O’Conor moved more or less definitively to Paris in 1904, living and working for most of the next 29 years at 102, rue du Cherche Midi (6th arrondissement). Eyewitnesses were to describe the place as “gloomy”,a big barn of a place” that gave “an impression of abject poverty”, but it was here that O’Conor achieved a semblance of stability. In particular, the location of the studio windows on the first floor influenced the composition of many of his works.

During his long Parisian sojourn, he eventually married his much younger mistress and model, Henrietta (Renée Honta), and frequented a circle of Anglo-American would-be artists and intellectuals who met upstairs at a café-restaurant called the Chat Blanc, situated at 93, rue d’Odessa in Montparnasse (address no longer exists). O’Conor also could be seen at the American Art Association at 4, rue Joseph Bara (6th arrondissement) as well as more well-known Montparnasse institutions such as the Rotonde.

O'Connor 2 Cherche Midi
 102, rue du Cherche Midi
O’Conor appears to have been a difficult character, with the British art critic Clive Bell describing him as “gruff” and “misanthropic”. Somerset Maugham, who was part of the Chat Blanc circle, used O’Conor as a model for artist characters in his novels Of Human Bondage and The Magician, in which he appears under the guise of the artist O’Brien:

 [O’Brien was] a tall dark fellow with strongly marked features, untidy hair, and a ragged black moustache…who is an example of the fact that strength of will and an earnest purpose cannot make a painter. He’s a failure and he knows it and the bitterness has warped his soul. If you listen to him you’ll hear every painter of eminence come under his lash.

 By the beginning of the 1930s, O’Conor’s health had begun to decline and he began to spend less time in the French capital. After a couple of years in Spain, he and Horta were forced to move back to France by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The couple moved into an imposing dwelling they had bought in 1933 at Nueil-sur-Layon in the Loire valley, where O’Conor was to die in March 1940.


Select Bibliography

The Irish Impressionists—Irish artists in France and Belgium, 1850-1914 (1984)

Julian Campbell

Roderic O’Conor (1992)

Jonathan Benington