William Orpen

William Orpen

William Newenham Montague Orpen (1878–1931) was an Irish portrait painter who studied art at the Metropolitan School & at the Slade School in London. Perhaps his best works were his numerous self portraits, in which he portrayed himself as an aristocrat, a military hero, & an elegant artist. His patrons were surely convinced of his importance, as Orpen was a highly sought after society portraitist. However, his lucrative portraits of aristocrats seem shallow compared to his sympathetic paintings of working women. Although the marriage was short-lived, his painting of his first wife Grace is also sensitive & elegant.

William Orpen


William Orpen
Orpen was fond of painting women sitters against a black background, lighting the figure from two sides, an arrangement which gave luminosity and a certain ethereal appearance to his unfaltering but matter of fact statement…

Like Sir John Lavery, Orpen was an official war painter of the First World War. In 1917 he travelled to the Western Front and produced drawings and paintings of privates, dead soldiers and German prisoners of war along with official portraits of generals and politicians. His large paintings of the Versaille Peace Conference captured the political wranglings and the vainglory of the gathered politicians and statesmen, whom Orpen came to loathe but relied upon for post-war commissions. Most of these works, 138 in all, he gave to the British government on the understanding that they should be framed in simple white frames and kept together as a single body of work. They are now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum in London. For his war work, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in the 1918 King's birthday honours list.He was elected a Royal Academician (member of the Royal Academy of Arts) in 1919.


William Orpen



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