In September 1904, Orpen accompanied his friend, the art dealer and connoisseur, Hugh Lane, to Europe on a buying expedition to acquire works for Lane's project - a Modern Art Gallery for Dublin. As Lane's forte was the Old Masters, Orpen went along ostensively as a guide and adviser in the field of modern European art. However, for Orpen, who had for years been studying images of the Old Master paintings whilst learning his trade at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin and then the Slade School of Fine Art in London, it was an opportunity to come face to face with works that until then he only knew from reproductions. He embraced them like old friends, and their sight did not disappoint.
Orpen returned to London with renewed vigour for his art, and an almost insatiable desire to translate the experience into paint. This revitalised ardour for the Old Masters caused him to revisit other schools, such as the Dutch Masters. He had looked at the Dutch before with his early New English Art Club submissions such as The Mirror, 1900 (Tate, London), but now he turns to Frans Hals. Whether it was the compositional influences that inspired the choice of model or the model that inspired the compositional influences, is not certain. Although the identity of the model in The Beggar Girl is not known 1, her unusual and striking features, especially her teeth, may have been the catalyst for a composition reflecting Hals' works. Her looks and expression have a remarkable resemblance to Hals' The Laughing Boy (Tête d'enfant), circa 1625 (Mauritschuis Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague) and possibly A Young Fisherman of Scheveningen (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin). Since the latter work was acquired by the gallery in 1881, resemblances would not have been lost on Orpen. He may then have drawn on two other of Hals works, The Gypsy Girl (La Bohémienne), 1628-30 (Louvre, Paris), for pose and Malle Babbe, circa 1635 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), for the palette and technique. Thus in Orpen's The Beggar Girl, the application is looser and freer. His avaricious eye had been unleashed in the great collections of Paris and Madrid and in 1905 he was still honing his talent.
1 It has been suggested that this may be the Artist's Daughter, however the work is too early for this to be the case, as it also is suggested that the work dates to circa 1905, when the eldest child was three years old.
This work will be included in the catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by Christopher Pearson of the Orpen Research Project.