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

The Rushing Stream

Roderic O'Conor (1860-1940)
The Rushing Stream
oil on canvas
19 ½ x 24 in. (49.5 x 61 cm.)
Painted circa 1891-92.
with Roland, Browse & Delbanco, London.
Godfrey Neal, and by descent.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 16 May 1996, lot 466, where acquired for the present collection.
Exhibition catalogue, Roderic O'Conor, London, Roland, Browse & Delbanco, 1961, n.p., no. 29, illustrated.
J. Benington, From Realism to Expressionism: The Early Career of Roderic O'Conor, London, 1985, p. 254, pl. 5.
J. Benington, Roderic O'Conor: A Biography, With a Catalogue of His Work, Dublin, 1992, p. 199, no. 79.
J. Benington (intro.), exhibition catalogue, Roderic O'Conor, London, Roland, Browse & Delbanco, 1994, n.p., no. 1, illustrated.
London, Roland, Browse & Delbanco, Roderic O'Conor, July 1961, no. 29.
London, Roland, Browse & Delbanco, Roderic O'Conor: A Selection of His Best Work, June - July 1971, no. 10.
London, Roland, Browse & Delbanco, Roderic O'Conor, October - November 1994, no. 1.

Brought to you by

Nathaniel Nicholson
Nathaniel Nicholson Associate Director, Specialist

Lot Essay

The Rushing Stream illustrates an early phase in O’Conor’s evolution of his 'striped' method of painting, directly influenced by the graphically expressive brushwork of Van Gogh’s later works. At this juncture the Irishman had only been in Pont-Aven for a few months, having arrived there late in 1891. He would have been quick to explore the Bois d’Amour, one of the principal beauty spots in the Breton town, which bordered the fast-flowing River Aven with its numerous mills and mill races. The settlement had quickly become a popular artists’ destination from the 1860s such that, by the time of O’Conor’s arrival, it was celebrated both in writing and in art:

'At a point where the river Aven … spreads out into a broad estuary, is the little port of Pont-Aven, built four miles from the sea. … the water rushes past flour-mills and under bridges with perpetual noise, and a breeze stirs the poplar trees that line its banks on the calmest day' (H. Blackburn, Breton Folk, an Artistic Tour in Brittany, 1881, p. 128).

Whilst on other occasions Roderic O’Conor would depict the winding paths amongst the steeply wooded slopes (see for example The Glade, 1892, Museum of Modern Art, New York), on this occasion it was the river itself that drew his attention, with its swirling eddies and waves crested by foam, interrupted at intervals by large boulders.

Focusing on a small stretch of water and river bank, and choosing to crop the skyline completely from his composition, O’Conor deploys short directional brushstrokes that follow and emphasise the flow of the currents. Even the painting of the far river bank with its scrubby trees and lush grass echoes the sensation of flickering movement, in which unusually the gestures of varying colours have been allowed to remain distinct, rather than being blended together. The Irish painter’s brilliance as a colourist comes through in his repetition of accents of the same hues throughout the picture, with pale blue ‘stripes’ in the riverbank as well as the water, and a Venetian Red lending warmth to the stream as well as to the trunks of the trees.

At this stage in his career O’Conor had yet to meet Paul Gauguin, however he had already encountered Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s art dealing brother, in September 1890 in Paris. The connection reinforced an affinity for the work of the Dutch painter that began in 1889 with their shared participation in the annual exhibitions of the Salon des Indépendants. By 1891-92 O’Conor, virtually uniquely, was ready to apply his precocious understanding of Van Gogh’s methods to his own paintings. The strong rhythmic patterning described by Van Gogh’s brush in a work of 1887 such as Kitchen Gardens on Montmartre (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), which O’Conor could have seen at the 1888 Indépendants show, would have given him the confidence to further explore the potential of this technique whilst based in rural Brittany. Within six months of executing The Rushing Stream, his radical ‘striping’ of unmixed colours had reached its full expression in works such as Yellow Landscape, Pont-Aven (Tate, London).

Jonathan Benington

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