John O'Connor was born in Co. Derry. He began painting as an assistant scene-painter at the Belfast theatre and subsequently worked for a while in the Dublin theatre. In 1848 he moved to London where he continued to work as a scene-painter at Drury Lane and later at the Haymarket theatre, where he became the principal scene-painter in 1863. Simultaneously he took up landscape painting in both oil and watercolour. He travelled extensively on the contintent and his views in Italy, France and Spain are among those which he exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1857 and 1888.