Sir William Orpen: A Man Between Two Worlds


Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen (1878-1931) was a successful Irish painter and a man of contradictions. He was a society portrait painter who went to the Western Front as an official painter of World War I. Living in London he was a part of the New English Art Club, which favored Impressionism and included Americans James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1902) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Traveling back to Ireland, Orpen was involved with The Celtic Revival along with playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909) and poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). He considered himself ugly, which he exaggerated in self-portraits yet the women he depicted where beautifully nuanced. He died at the age of fifty-two having seen his brilliant career as a portrait painter dim and never recovering from seeing the lost souls of war.