This intimate and warm study of the female form is unusual for O'Conor in that the figure has been posed in such a way as to fill the canvas from top to bottom and from left to right. In fact, the canvas does not quite contain her, for her limbs extend beyond the lower edge of the picture. This unusual strategy serves to endow the figure with a monumental, almost sculptural presence, which is accentuated by the use of strong diagonals and by the contrasting distribution of light and shade across the torso. O'Conor further explored the possibilities of this pose - showing the model with her left knee raised - in a drawing and another oil painting, but only in the present painting did he swap the armchair for a green drape and position the figure upright as opposed to reclining.
Like Bonnard, for whom he had the highest admiration, O'Conor manages to bring a delicate sensuality to his interpretation of volume in Seated nude with red hair. He does this by infusing the lights as well as the mid-tones with colour, feathering his brushstrokes in order to imbue the figure with a sense of arrested movement. She has been momentarily disturbed in the act of dressing and turns towards the viewer, making frank and direct eye contact. The fact that she does not avert her gaze suggests a familiarity, a lack of embarrassment that betokens a modern, emancipated outlook on the part of the model. Is it possible that O'Conor knew her well, personally as well as professionally? Her features - especially the prominent nose, full face and long, curly hair - are very like those of Renée Honta, O'Conor's mistress and future wife, whom he first met around this time. Renée was a brunette, a fact which is at odds with the traditional title of this picture but makes sense visually, given that the young woman's hair is partly caught in very bright sunlight: such conditions would naturally accentuate any warm local colour, making brown appear chestnut or even red.
If the model is indeed Renée Honta (1894-1955), the candour and intimacy of this picture take on a personal resonance. Renée mitigated the loneliness of O'Conor's old age, besides becoming his longest-serving model and the inspiration behind many of his best nudes.
We are very grateful to Jonathan Benington for providing the above catalogue entry.