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An exact contemporary of Charles Gruppe, O’Conor is listed as both Irish and Irish-American (by Bénézit, in error). His place of birth was Roscommon, Ireland (on 17 October 1860). Regarded as Ireland’s most progressive painter of his time, O’Conor was close to both Gauguin and Armand Seguin in the Pont-Aven region, and he was wealthy enough to purchase paintings by Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir, Manet, and others.
O’Conor studied art in Dublin (1879-83), Antwerp (1883), then in Paris under Carolus-Duran and at the Académie Julian. He was working in Grèz-sur-Loing in the 1880s (Jacobs, 1985, p. 33), and began exhibiting his works at the Salon des Indépendants in 1890. Later he would take part in the Salon d’Automne. O’Conor first came to Brittany in 1890, and two years later he executed Yellow Landscape at Pont-Aven (Barnet Shine Collection, London). At Pont-Aven, O’Conor also did engravings. The Irishman befriended Gauguin there, also in 1892. The latter tried to persuade his “drinking buddy” O’Conor to accompany him to Tahiti. The Irish painter was certainly as avant-garde as Gauguin. Breton Peasant Knitting, already post-impressionistic, was painted in 1893, and The Farm at Lezaven, Finistère (National Gallery of Ireland), a year later.
According to tradition, O’Conor inspired the character of Clutton, the failed artist in Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. The letters between Seguin and O’Conor were published in 1989, as Une vie de bohème. In the introduction, Denys Sutton describes how O’Conor served as Seguin’s “father confessor.” O’Conor’s friend Clive Bell (in Old Friends, 1956, p. 163), pointed out that O’Conor “seems to have known . . . most of the more interesting French painters of his generation — the Nabis for instance.” O’Conor’s use of bold color anticipates the Fauves and the German Expressionists. His knowledge of avant-garde painting had a direct impact on the formalist critics Roger Fry and Clive Bell. O’Conor influenced both Robert Vonnoh and Edward Potthast in Grèz, and he oriented Alden Brooks (1840-1931) to Vincent van Gogh’s innovative techniques. Brooks stated that O’Conor was “considered by all the one genius of the crowd.” (Hill, 1987, p. 14).
He died at Neuil-sur-Layon on 18 March 1940.
Sutton, Denys, “Roderic O’Conor,” The Studio 160 (November 1960): 168-174, 194-196; Crookshank, Anne and The Knight of Glin, The Painters of Ireland. London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1978, pp. 257-258, 261-263; Benington, Jonathan, “From Realism to Expressionism: The Early Career of Roderic O’Conor,” Apollo 121 (April 1985): 253-261; Johnston, Roy, Roderic O’Conor. Exh. cat. London: Barbicon Art Gallery and Ulster Museum, 1985; Hill, May Brawley. Grez Days: Robert Vonnoh in France. Exh. cat. New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 1987, pp. 11, 14; Une vie de bohème: Lettres du peintre Armand Seguin à Roderic O’Conor 1895-1903, Lausanne: Promedia, 1989; Benington, Jonathan, Roderic O’Conor: A Biography with a Catalogue of His Work. Irish Academic Press, 1992; Murphy, Paula, Roderic O’Conor 1860-1940. Lives of Irish Artists Series. Dublin: Town House, 1992; Johnston, Roy, Roderic O’Conor 1860-1940. Catalogue de l’oeuvre gravé. Musée de Pont-Aven, 1999.
Information provided by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.