Art critic and journalist Stanley Elston Austin (1875-1934) was described by Tatler magazine in March 1905 as 'a prominent figure in the art circles of London and Paris, and a recognised authority on all matters artistic'. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, he wrote art criticism for Vanity Fair, and was a Director of the Saturday Review and a Deputy Editor of the Daily Mirror. He also founded The Collectors Magazine and The Printseller and wrote a book on the history of engraving. A resident of Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, he joined the Arts Club in Dover Street in 1920 and there became a friend and confidant of Orpen's.
The sitter for The Letter is likely to be Yvonne Aubicq, daughter of the Mayor of Lille. Orpen met and feel in love with her in the winter of 1917 while he was recovering from serious illness in Amiens, and their affair continued until 1928. Orpen only painted a few pictures of Yvonne, which include The Disappointing Letter (J.B. Speed Museum, Louisville, Kentucky) and Sunlight (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin).
There is an original drawing on one of the preliminary pages of Orpen's autobiography, Stories of Old Ireland & Myself. This is copy no. 2, signed and numbered by Orpen, from the deluxe 'large paper edition', limited to 100 copies and published by Williams and Norgate, London, 1924. Octavo; bound in original white cloth, titled in gilt at spine and on upper board. Top edge gilt. With the armorial bookplate of Stanley Austin on front pastedown. The full inscription reads 'Silence /Age 12/Billy Orpen draws at an early age in Dublin/To Stanley Austin with love/William Orpen/London December 1924", and shows a diligent young Orpen in short pants, pen raised in one hand, seated at his easel in the Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin.
We are very grateful to Christopher Pearson and Professor Kenneth McConkey, Orpen Research Project, for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.