Roderic O'Conor - his life and artworks

Welcome to this month’s Oil Painting Blog for Beginners.

Last month, I promised to write another blog on the history of landscape painting and its artists. However, after seeing The Mary and Ben Dunne Collection – An exhibition of Exceptional Irish Art in Gormley’s art gallery, I’ve decided to dedicate the next few blogs to some of our famous Irish artists.

So, this month, we are taking a very high-level look at one of my favourite Irish artists – Roderic O’Conor.

Roderic O’Conor (1860 – 1940) *

Roderic O'Conor

Self Portrait
National Gallery of Ireland
Bequeathed, Mr W Wallace Anderson (1929)

O’Conor described as Ireland’s first modernist painter, was a complex character, intelligent, spontaneous, erratic, irascible and introverted and was always something of a mystery. [1]

He was influenced by artists such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cezanne and art movements of the time including impressionism, post-impressionism and pointillism.

Roderic O’Conor was born into a ‘well-to-do’ family who financially supported him throughout his lifetime, so he wasn’t your typical ‘starving artist’. He often supported his fellow artists by purchasing their artwork including the Te Nave Nave Fenua (1892) by Gauguin for 500 francs which went towards the cost of Gauguin’s second trip to Polynesia. [2]

Striped Technique

He spent most of his adult life in Europe, particularly Paris and Pont Avon. Where he embraced the stripe/linear method, using various brush strokes and experimental mark-making, along with complementary colours. [3]

Landscape, Pont-Aven (1892)

Landscape, Pont-Aven
Trustees of the W.R.
Warburton 1996 Settlement

Apples and Pear Roderic O'Conor

Apples and Pear
Trustees of the W.R.
Warburton 1996 Settlement

Breton Boy in Profile Roderic O'Conor

Breton Boy in Profile

Chiaroscuro Method

Thereafter, he seemed to revert back to using and extending the skills of the Old Masters, playing more with light and shadow and implementing the Chiaroscuro method.

In 1909, he wrote:

I am tired of the modern critics and their new fangled jargon – their “learned brushwork” their “sustained values” their “scholarly realisations” – I’d as soon listen to the old blokes with their mouths full of chiaroscuro, morbidezza, corregiosity and gusto’. [4]

Young Breton Girl Roderic O'Conor

Young Breton Girl
National Gallery of Ireland

(Purchased 1975 – Shaw Fund)

Layer by layer, ‘wet on wet’ technique

In later years, his method was to build up paintings layer by layer, using a ‘wet on wet’ technique. While they had a look of spontaneity, they were carefully planned out. His routine was traditional, beginning with a stained priming coat, followed by a wash drawing, blocking in an under-painting and then as many as 5 final layers, usually completed in a single session. [5]

The Woman In White Roderic O'Conor

The Woman in White
Ulster Museum

Flowers - Roderic O'Conor

East Sussex

Still Life with Bowl of Fruit by a Window
The Courtauld
London Samuel Courtauld

Around, 1916, he began a relationship with one of his models, Renee Honta (also known as Henrietta). She was 34 years younger than him. However, they stayed together and married in 1933. [6]

Roderic O’Conor died in Nueil-sur-Layon, France on 18 March 1940 at the age of 79.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s oil painting blog. Next month, we will be looking at another Irish Artist, their artwork and their painting style.

If anyone is looking to learn to paint like some of the old masters, why not join us this November/December in the studio. The workshops are kept to a minimum of 4 persons, and I’ll be on hand to guide you through the steps involved for each painting. We will also have our Christmas vouchers coming on stream for you or a loved one, for our Saturday Beginners Workshop, and our one-to-one consultations which will be by appointment.

Wishing you the very best for November!

November 2022

* As always, I am not affiliated with any brands, stores, or persons I may or may not mention and your use of any of these products, links and the like are your own risk and it’s up to you to do your research/homework before you use them. This is just my opinion and experience.

[1] B. P Kennedy, ‘Irish Painting’, (Town House and Country House 1993), pg 29.

[2] Vincent van Gogh, letter to Emile Bernard of 5 October 1888, J Benginton (B. Rooney), ‘Roderic O’Conor and the Moderns – between Paris and Pont-Aven’ (National Gallery of Ireland 2018), pg 22.

[3] B. P Kennedy, ‘Irish Painting’, (Town House and Country House 1993), pg 29.

[4] A. Brooks, typescript autobiography, n.d., 8 and 10 (private collection), J Benginton (B. Rooney), ‘Roderic O’Conor and the Moderns – between Paris and Pont-Aven’ (National Gallery of Ireland 2018), pg 86.

[5] Milmo-Penny Fine Art,

[6] An Appreciation: Roderic O’Connor (Beyond Art)

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