Thence gifted to her nephew, Desmond Windle on the occasion of his marriage;
Estate of Judge Desmond Windle
Each year between 1909 and 1913, having completed his teaching ter...Read more
Each year between 1909 and 1913, having completed his teaching term at the Metropolitan School of Art, Orpen, with his wife, Grace, and daughters, Mary and Christine, rented the Bellinghams' house, known as The Cliffs, on Howth Head. For all his philandering and bouts of hard drinking, these summers were to be the best times of his life. Here he could be joined by Dublin friends and students and a sense of joie de vivre prevailed. Orpen of course, never stopped working. His brother Richard, a regular visitor, recalled these 'never-to-be-forgotten summer days' of swimming and sun-bathing, but he felt compelled to add that,
Bill was always at work and painted many pictures here. It was at 'The Cliffs' that I realised what the 'urge' of the painter is.
Orpen's 'urge' was to represent figures on the headland glorying in the freedom of the vast open sky with, in some instances, the magnificent backdrop of the Irish Sea. It was nevertheless a precipitous place. An amusing pen drawing in a letter to his friend, George Charles Beresford, shows him painting with makeshift easel and heels dug into the grass on a steep slope falling into the sea (fig 1). On breezy days, his actors would erect a bell-tent on the hilltop, crawl to the cliff-edge to watch a yacht race, fly kites, or descend for a swim in the little inlet known as Bellingham's harbour. In these simple things, the possibilities for drawings and paintings were endless, and the results, stunning.
Fig 1 William Orpen, The Artist at Howth Head, 26 x 20 approx., date and current location unknown
Although there were frequent visitors, and some set-piece ensembles, such as On the Irish Shore (Leeds City Art Galleries), Sheep and Goats, and Life Class on the Beach (both Private Collections), Grace, Mary (known as 'Bunnie') and Christine (known as 'Kit') were favourite subjects. Kit famously remembered that her father '… paid half-a-crown an hour for sitting for those portraits - a fortune in those days … only an hour at a time and then a dash along the cliffs for a bathe - golden days'. Should we assume that the girl in the present drawing lies there awaiting her 'dash' down to the sea - and is this Kit?
At the time of its acquisition by Miss Mary Mathews in the 1950s the model for the present work was thus identified. For several generations the picture has always been known as Kit on the Hill of Howth, County Dublin. But is it possible that Orpen, having painted Kit (fig 2) just before her seventh birthday in 1913, would then re-present his daughter as more mature than her years would suggest? The girl in the present work must surely be several years older. Orpen's exquisite draughtsmanship persuades us of this.
Fig 2 William Orpen, Kit, c. 1913, 94 x 89, Private Collection
Orpen's drawing is of course, unsurpassed. At the time, when Chenil Gallery followed its limited edition facsimilies of his drawings with a pamphlet quoting press coverage, it seemed as though a consensus on quality had been reached. Orpen's humanity, his sympathetic line, placed him above the revered Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and in works such as The Yacht Race (fig 3), which features Kit in the left corner, the drawing was 'masterly'. The writer could sense the warmth of the sun, and the breeze from the sea, and concluded that 'when an artist can conjure up such emotion his success is complete'. Form, mass and contour are so finely observed that all who appreciated his emerging Irish national school of artists must celebrate Orpen's achievement.
While The Yacht Race drawing, one of two to pass through Pyms Gallery, London, at different times, helps us to confirm the look of Orpen's younger daughter, a closer match is found in On the Cliff, (fig 4). Here a barefoot older girl wearing a calf-length skirt and slouch hat is also looking over the headland. Her hair appears to be bobbed and cut to a similar length as that in the present drawing. On this basis, it can tentatively be suggested that the girl in both drawings is likely to be Bunnie Orpen, Kit's older sister.
Fig 3 William Orpen, The Yacht Race, 1913, 52 x 75, Private Collection, photo courtesy Pyms Gallery, London
Fig 4 William Orpen, In the Cliff, 1913, 53.3 x 74.3, Private Collection, photo courtesy Pyms Gallery, London
The same sensitivity of line also persists in both drawings and the washes of watercolour are delicately laid. Detail, the blue piping on the cardigan, for instance, is noted where it needs to be. In essence Orpen wishes to express a sense of bohemian youth and abandon. Other artists, Augustus John, Derwent Lees, Laura Knight and others were taking up his theme. Yet his essentially Irish version of Baudelairean luxe, calme et volupté was unmatched. On Howth Hill the mind was no longer in chains and the petty politics of the Board of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, now dictating the art school curriculum, could be put aside.
The girl lies prone before us. In her hand she holds a knot of tiny flowers - Alpines perhaps - that survive the fierce winds that lick this exposed headland in winter. She stretches her right arm skywards as Sheerwater gulls soar over the headland - birds that came to symbolize these idyllic summers, as Orpen would nostalgically recall.
Of an evening, as the sun dips, the water in the bay becomes brilliant gold, or if there is any mist, the siren at the Bull starts its weird octave … And the Sheerwater gulls start their laughter, like a bunch of young girls at the side of the road laughing at the passer-by. Ireland! Romance, laughter and tears.
1. Bruce Arnold, Orpen, Mirror to an Age, 1981 (Jonathan Cape), p. 273.
2. Quoted in James White ed., William Orpen, A Centenary Exhibition, 1978 (exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Ireland), p. 42; quoted in Arnold, 1981, pp. 268-9.
3. From 1910 to the outbreak of war the British Isles experienced a series of unprecedentedly hot summers; see for instance Virginia Nicholson, The Perfect Summer, Dancing into Shadow in 1911, 2007 (Penguin pbk ed).
4. Ibid, p. 49. Half-a-crown in 1913 would be worth £13.24 or 14.46 EUR today.
5. Information supplied to Whyte's by the current owner.
6. Christine Orpen ('Kit') was born in September 1906.
7. Like her father, Kit was small in stature. Serious consideration must therefore be given to the possibility that the model in the present instance, is an older girl. At the same time we acknowledge that Kit's hair, formerly in ringlets was straight and bobbed by 1913, the date that concurs with the stylistic and technical aspects of the work.
8. The Art News quoted in The Chenil Gallery, A Portfolio of Ten Drawings by William Orpen ARA, 1914, (Charles Chenil & Co), p. 6.
9. ES Grew, 'The Severe Art of Drawing', The Graphic, 17 January 1914, p. 104. Since Hugh Lane's epoch-making exhibition of Irish Art at the Guildhall Art Gallery, London in 1904, the question of Irish cultural identity in the visual arts was firmly on the agenda.
10. The Yacht Race passed through Pyms Gallery and was included in The Art of A Nation, Three Centurie of Irish Painting, in 2002 (no 31), and On the Cliff featured in its Orpen and the Edwardian Era exhibition in 1986 (no. 37).
11. It would seem logical that Grace Orpen would have her daughters' hair cut to the same style at the same time.
12. William Orpen, Stories of Old Ireland and Myself, 1924 (Williams and Northgate), pp. 4-5.
The Art Collection of Desmond P.H. Windle (1933-2014)
Whyte’s are proud to present the collection of pictures and sculpture formed by Desmond Windle, a distinguished lawyer and art lover. Desmond’s life-long interest in art developed as a young solicitor in 1950s Dublin, inspired by his aunt’s (Molly Matthews) love of art. A regular attendee at galleries and studios, he collected modern and contemporary Irish art for over 60 years. He supported many young emerging artists and, in the early days, acquired some paintings by way of barter in exchange for legal advice to the frequently impecunious artists being threatened with eviction. Invariably their tenancy was secured. He never stopped collecting and decorated all available wall space in his home with a diverse collection of works and, thereafter, most available floor space. Favourites included works by Patrick Collins, John Behan, Michael Kane, Gerald Davis, Felim Egan, Robert Ballagh, Charles Brady, Charles Harper, George Campbell, Bernadette Madden and Seán McSweeney.
Works from this wonderful collection, included in this 2 October 2017 sale, are lots 2, 5, 10, 15, 20, 26, 35, 48, 50, 53, 54, 56, 58, 59, 62, 66, 67, 91, 92, 94, 102, 103, 111, 112, 116, 120, 121, 122, 124 and 169. Further selections from this extensive collection will be offered in future auctions at Whyte’s.
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