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James Arthur O'Connor 1792-1841
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James Arthur O'Connor 1792-1841

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Mountainous Continental landscape with a figure crossing a bridge over a river

 


Oil painting on canvas 13 x 19 inches in its giltwood frame

Signed “J A O'Connor” lower left corner

Painted circa 1832

 

James Arthur O'Connor is amongst the best-known and prolific of the early Irish landscape painters, and his work is arguably the best documented. Born in Dublin in 1792, his work provides a bridge between the early Georgian school of Barret, Carver and Roberts, and the early Victorian topographers who succeeded him. He retained the eighteenth century delight in Irish topography, and he has left us with a vivid record of the land in Dublin and its environs before the developments of the 19th century.

O'Connor's father was a print-seller and engraver, so a career in the arts was perhaps inevitable for his son; we have it on the authority of Thomas Bodkin that he received his training from William Sadler. Though the two artists' subjects are similar, their techniques are very different. Where Sadler is adept at a flickering use of paint on a thin washed-in design, O'Connor works his paint more thoroughly, and achieves a higher "finish" and more solid colouration and impasto. Sadler is essentially a topographer; O'Connor is a Romantic interpreter of the Irish landscape. The former speaks a solid prose, where O'Connor is imbued with the poetry of landscape.

O'Connor left Ireland on a first Continental “grand tour” accompanied by his picture-dealer in 1826, visiting Belgium, though very few paintings from this period are now identifiable, apart from his view of the Field of Waterloo, (NT., Anglesea Abbey). A subsequent sojourn on the Continent in 1832 took him to France and Germany, rather in the way that his friend the artist Francis Danby had done in the previous year. O'Connor's aim was the picturesque and the romantic, an aim which lead him away from the usual journey to Italy and the South, but towards the Rhine and the Moselle with its dramatic mountainous landscape. From the few paintings of this trip which are now identifiable, it seems that O'Connor was either unable or unwilling radically to change his pictorial style to a type which might thoroughly reflect the work of the German Romantics such as Caspar Friedrich: his interpretation of the landscape seems more inspired by his native Wicklow than by the brooding grandeur of the wild German mountains, though he does nod towards the fashionable Romanticism by using more dramatic lighting effects, storms etc..

The topography of the present painting has yet to be precisely identified, but it seems most likely that it depicts one of the river valleys that flow into the Rhine, and of which several drawings by O'Connor survive (eg B.M., acquired 1872). That the view is indeed German is vouchsafed not only by the height and grandeur of the mountains, but by the presence of large numbers of conifers on the hillside.

We are grateful to William Laffan for first pointing out that this was one of O'Connor's Continental views of the 1832 series.
 


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