In Romeo and Juliet the composition is carefully constructed on two intersecting diagonals, whilst the fiery colours that envelop the couple push them closer to the picture plane and intensify the ardour of their embrace. The woman's billowing dress and her upraised foot indicate that she has just rushed into her partner's arms, throwing her head back as he bends to kiss her. A sense of arrested movement also finds expression in the repeated contours behind the man's legs, and in the diagonal folds that run down the side of the woman's dress. The setting for the couple's tryst is a moonlit garden bordered by trees and a colonnade, with the moon shining down from the right hand side such that their faces remain in shadow and almost appear to fuse together. The deliberate suppression of facial features and other details seems to allude to the loss of individuality inherent in an erotic act.
O'Conor owned two lithographs by Edvard Munch dating from 1896-97, a period when the Norwegian artist was living and working in Paris. It is highly likely O'Conor saw the ten paintings from the Frieze of Life, including The Kiss, that Munch exhibited at the 1897 Salon des Indépendants. Instead of mimicking the earlier composition, however, with its covert indoor embrace conducted in semi-darkness, O'Conor places his couple in an outdoor setting where their behaviour could be viewed as a reaction to, or reflection of, the circumstances they have just witnessed. The heavy build-up of paint in Romeo and Juliet, with its scumbled textures and bold sweeps of the palette knife, further distances it from the painterly, highly gestural brushstrokes employed by Munch.
Romeo and Juliet was owned by the art dealer Henry Roland for over thirty years. Having rediscovered O'Conor at the 1956 sale of his studio in Paris, Roland was given this painting as a present by his partners, thereby exempting it from the solo exhibitions mounted over the years by Roland, Browse & Delbanco in Cork Street. The title of the painting was Roland's own invention, in default of any title being handed down by the artist. When the work was featured in the One Man's Choice exhibition of Roland's private collection in Edinburgh, alongside pieces by Bonnard, Ernst, Klee, Matisse, Moore and Picasso, its owner noted in the catalogue: 'The drama of his [O'Conor's] young lovers is played out entirely in colours, hot and passionate. A complete union of French and Irish temperament' (One Man's Choice: Selected by Dr Henry Roland from his own collection and from other sources, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 1985, p. 18).
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