We are grateful to The Orpen Research Project for providing us with this and the following entries for Sir William Orpen.
The subject bears a strong resemblance to the Hungarian gypsy identified as George featured in the various versions, painted between 1909 and 1910, of George, Edith and the Bear, also referred to as The Hungarians. This may well have been a study for one of these pictures. The most likely picture is On the Dublin Mountains (1909; Oldham Art Gallery), where the pose of upper body and head is similar.
Around 1909 the gypsies were visiting Howth near Dublin. They became a favourite subject of Orpen's at that time and he enthused about them in letters to his wife, Grace. Words such as, 'no news except bears - I live for bears and gipsies - they are the most wonderful people I have ever met. Sunday I go out to dine with them (they're six in all)', were often accompanied by amusing sketches. Two examples of sketches are The Arrival and The Departure (sold in these Rooms, 22 May 1998, lot 24), in which he depicts the group arriving and departing from his studio in the Metropolitan School of Art.
Although the original pencil sketch probably dates to 1909, the colour in the clothing, the foreground and the background was almost certainly added much later. Orpen is known to have revisited some of his early drawings towards the end of his life adding elements of colour and background, and this work is characteristic of such treatment. Also indicative of these works is paper laid on a board or a card backing together with a varnish finish. The treatment of the flora is somewhat reminiscent of some of Orpen's last works, such as Pavlova on a Beach (circa 1931; Mildura Arts Centre, Australia), or Eve in the Garden of Eden (circa 1931; untraced, although there is a small version at the Royal Academy, London).