O'Conor painted scores of flower pictures in oil and watercolour after he left Brittany for Paris in 1904. An inveterate colourist, he was attracted by the vibrant blooms which he combined with coloured drapes, pottery (usually Breton or Chinese), books and fruit. The embrasure of a studio window would often cut into the background, simultaneously framing and illuminating the flowers.
The picture of red and white roses, however, is different in several respects from most of O'Conor's other flower paintings. Firstly, the composition is horizontal instead of the usual vertical format, a change that can be accounted for by the substitution of a porcelain or creamware basket for the usual tall vase he favoured. Secondly, the foreground and background are deliberately understated and colourless, allowing the radiant colours of the flowers to take centre stage and achieve maximum impact. Such a low-key approach to the setting is virtually unique in O'Conor's work, especially when compared to the later flower paintings which tended to feature backgrounds with dramatic tonal contrasts.
The final surprise in this work is the very painterly approach, relying exclusively on brushes at the expense of the palette knife. There is a brisk, but keenly observed fluidity to the painting of the roses and foliage in particular, whilst the paintwork of the background and drape has a creamier, less active, consistency. Overall, this is the work of a man at the height of his powers, drawing on his very considerable experience in order to produce a supremely confident piece of work. The inscribed title Roses on the back of the picture indicates that the artist must at least have intended it for exhibition, but the fact that he used the same title for other works prohibits identification of a precise venue and date.