James Arthur O'Connor was born in Dublin c. 1792. The son of an engraver and print-seller, O'Connor would have gained his earliest exposure to the visual arts in his father's shop, and may also have studied under William Sadler (c. 1782-1839). Already exhibiting in Dublin as a teenager (by 1809), O'Connor left for London in 1813, intending to settle there. He soon returned, however, and by 1818 was taking commissions for topographical views from important patrons such as the 2nd Marquis of Sligo and the 14th Earl of Clanricarde, and in 1820 was awarded a premium by the Royal Irish Institute. By 1822 he was back in London, exhibiting Irish views at the Royal Academy and the British Institution, helping stoke the English taste for characteristically Irish landscapes that had been ignited by George Barret in the preceding century.
O'Connor's landscape style during this period belonged whole-heartedly to the British picturesque movement, presenting views distinguished by the rugged, varied (read, natural) character of the landscape scene. His vigourous use of impasto, often in areas of fine detail (as in lots 8 and 9, as well as in the present lot), served to evoke the texture of the countryside with an immediacy that is equally served by his cleverly grapsed compositions, where loops and bends around receding trees draw the viewer into a palpably-sensed space.
The most important watershed in O'Connor's career comes in 1830, with his second return trip to Ireland. 'I am going to the wild and beautiful scenery of my native country to refresh my memory', he wrote in August of that year, 'I know that I will be benefited by a sigh of the grand scenery I will meet in Ireland, and hope to show it on canvas' (quoted in J. Hutchinson, James Arthur O'Connor, Dublin, 1985, p. 151). His works after this moment become more deeply Romantic, invoking Burke's notions of the Sublime in nature, as mediated by George Barret. A previously uncatalogued date of '1836' in the present picture places it securely in this second period.
The image of a solitary fisherman in an untamed, abundant river landscape was one that fascinated O'Connor both before and after 1830. The present lot can be compared to A Fisherman by the Dargle (private collection), of a similar composition, as well as to one of O'Connor's most celebrated paintings, The Devil's Glen, County Wicklow (London, Victoria and Albert Museum), dated 1828. Of similar size and scale to the present picture, The Devil's Glen also places a single fisherman at the focal point of a picturesque, many-leveled landscape, but turning away from the viewer, as though about to cast his line. O'Connor seems to have been spell-bound by the possibilities of this motif of the solitary angler, so eloquent of the quiet interaction between the human individual and a mighty, generous Nature.