Roderic O'Conor (1860-1940)
Roderic O'Conor (1860-1940)

Reclining Nude before a Mirror II

Roderic O'Conor (1860-1940)
Reclining Nude before a Mirror II
signed and dated 'R. O'CONOR/'09' (lower right), signed again with studio stamp 'atelier/O'CONOR' (on the reverse)
oil on board
20 5/8 x 29½ in. (52.3 x 75 cm.)
Hôtel Drouot, Paris, Vente O'Conor, 7 February 1956.
with Roland, Browse & Delbanco, London.
with Waddington Galleries, London, 1958, as Nu.
Purchased by the present owner’s mother at the 1994 exhibition, and by descent.
D. Sutton, Studio, November 1960, pp. 172, 195, illustrated.
R. Johnston, exhibition catalogue, Roderic O'Conor, London, Barbican Art Gallery, 1985, pp. 82-83, no. 47, illustrated, as Nu.
J. Benington, Roderic O'Conor: A Biography, with a Catalogue of his Work, Dublin, 1992, p. 205, no. 129, pl. 43.
London, Waddington Galleries, Three Painters - Ivon Hitchens, Jack B. Yeats, Roderic O'Conor, July - August 1958, no. 20, as Nu.
London, Barbican Art Gallery, Roderic O'Conor, September - November 1985, no. 47, as Nu: this exhibition travelled to Belfast, Ulster Museum, November 1985 - January 1986.
London, Browse & Darby, Roderic O'Conor, 1860-1940, October - November 1994, no. 18.

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Claire Keiller
Claire Keiller

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Lot Essay

This carefully composed painting of a reclining nude gazing at her reflection in a mirror is a reprise of Velázquez's famous Rokeby Venus in London's National Gallery. O'Conor's nude faces left rather than right and clearly depicts a mortal instead of the goddess of love, but the similarities sufficiently outweigh the differences for this to be regarded as an act of homage. The figure of Cupid who holds the mirror up to show Venus her reflected image in the seventeenth-century work has no role to play in the 1909 update, instead we glimpse what appears to be the statuette of a Hindu goddess silhouetted against one of O'Conor's large studio windows. The Irishman would have been aware that Velázquez's painting was purchased by the Art Fund in 1906 for £45,000 and presented to the National Gallery, but only after a constant barrage of opposition to its subject and condition. News of the campaign would undoubtedly have reached O'Conor in Paris and may indeed have provided him with the incentive to re-imagine this famous work (Velázquez's only nude) for a contemporary audience. The setting is his courtyard studio-cum-living quarters at 102 rue du Cherche-midi, Montparnasse.

O'Conor approached his task in a methodical fashion, for the present work is a more heavily painted second version of a canvas in Dublin's National Gallery of Ireland. The colour washes and stains with which O'Conor executed the Dublin version were sufficient to establish all the main elements of the design, whilst creating a light and airy effect coupled with a charming immediacy. Reclining Nude before a Mirror II, by way of contrast, is a more considered and carefully worked statement, with a dense build-up of pigment and a meticulous transcription of the subtle tonal gradations of the subject. The large mirror ensures the nude model is captured from two different angles, back and front, brightly illumined by the daylight entering through the studio windows (seen here with a yellow radiance), and then again facing into the room, her head and torso veiled in shadow. A cultured ambience is suggested by the framed picture at upper left, partially hidden by a drape, and also by the statuette in the background. The figure of the artist, however, remains invisible - he presumably positioned himself close to the bed and just to the right of the pair of windows, thereby avoiding a shadow being cast from his easel onto the supine model.

We are very grateful to Jonathan Benington for preparing this catalogue entry.

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