Royal Academy, 1915, no.395;
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1915, no.317;
Glasgow, Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1916, no.64;
Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition 'Late Members', 1933, no.148;
Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Works by Sir William Orpen, KBE, RA, (1878-1931), 1933, no.14
Pall Mall Magazine 'Extra', The Pictures of 1915, 1915 illus. p.1;
Royal Academy Pictures, 1915, p.74;
'The Royal Academy Exhibition', The Studio, vol. 65, 1915, p.29;
C.H. Collins Baker, 'The Royal Academy', The Saturday Review, 1 May 1915, p.450;
'The Royal Academy – 1', The Athenaeum, 8 May 1915, p.434;
P.G. Konody and S. Dark, Sir William Orpen, Artist and Man, 1932, p.270;
Bruce Arnold, Orpen, Mirror to an Age, 1981, pp.159, 281, 298
At the end of March 1914 when Orpen staged his solo exhibition at Knoedler's galleries in New York, the writer of the catalogue introduction, probably Charles Stewart Carstairs, could do no better than conclude with lines adopted from an earlier piece by CH Collins Baker in The Studio magazine. Three years earlier, Collins Baker was stumped by Orpen's 'alert and complex artistic individuality'. Commenting upon the versatility of his output, he concluded 'it is less easy to gauge the complexity of a mind that seems at once romantic and satiric, literal and imaginative' (The Studio, vol LII, 1911, p. 260). The fascination of Orpen's portraits lies in the degree to which each of these qualities is combined. The unwritten credo of Edwardian Britain was simply that portrait painters were male and that beauty resides in women. Faced with a sitter as attractive as Rose, Marchioness of Headfort, the 'romantic' took precedence over the 'satiric', while the 'literal' and the 'imaginative' are held in balance.
Rose Elizabeth Boote (FIG 1) was born 27 March 1878, in Park Street, Luton, Bedfordshire, the daughter of Charles Chamberlain Boote (c.1852-1885) and Annie Maria Hassell (born c.1860). Her parents were touring actors, and given the itinerant nature of their profession, they sent their daughter to boarding school at the Ursuline Convent School in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, an establishment with a high reputation for transforming girls into young, well educated ladies, fit for the highest society. In 1894, Rose joined her mother as an actress and dancer in musical comedy theatre, under the professional name, 'Miss Rosie Boote'. Within a few years she transferred George Edwardes' company at the Gaiety Theatre, where she became one of the celebrated 'Gaiety Girls' who, contrary to popular perception, were respectable young women, appearing on stage in the latest fashions. Her looks and personality came to the fore in the 1900 production of The Messenger Boy, in which, as Isobel Blyth, she sang "Maisie", an Edwardian Music Hall hit.
It was at this time that Rosie met and fell in love with a young officer of the Life Guards, Geoffrey Taylour, 4th Marquis of Headfort (see following lot). Despite strong opposition, and at the risk of being ostracized, Taylour heroically resigned his commission and they were married in April 1901. Through the difficult early years of their marriage, Rose's Ursuline education stood her in good stead as she took on her most important role as Marchioness of Headfort. It was a part she played with consummate skill, bearing two sons and a daughter by 1907. At the same time she deftly managed the dwindling finances of the estate at Kells in Co Meath, proved a brilliant hostess at numerous house parties, and was attentive to the concerns of the Headfort tenants and the local community. She was rightly proud of her humble roots and, as a devout Roman Catholic, her liberal attitude on matters of social equality and religious discrimination was no doubt coloured by her and her husband's treatment at the time of their marriage. Their popularity as progressive landlords ensured that Headfort survived the struggle for Irish independence largely unscathed.
Orpen would have shared the Headforts' liberality. Having been invited to Kells in 1914, he painted Rose's portrait directly onto the lining boards on the walls of a summerhouse she had built on the estate (FIG 2). While the panel has since been removed, it clearly contrasts with the commissioned portrait executed the following year.
More in the nature of a sketch, Rose is dressed in a large straw hat set with flowers, a thick cardigan and dark scarf, posed against a typical Orpen cloudscape. Arnold (p. 281) indicates that the commissions came courtesy of Orpen's patron, Mrs Howard St George (FIG 3) whose imposing full-length was painted around 1912 (sold Sotheby's 16 May 2003). It was a format he adopted for two other portraits of 1915 – the Mme Errazuriz and Mrs Oscar Lewisohn (Edna May). In this instance however, reacting to Rose's confident demeanour, the artist opted for the closer scrutiny offered by a three-quarter-length in which the figure is dramatically placed against a dark background in a pose that echoes that of Orpen's celebrated Bridgit – A Picture of Miss Elvery (FIG 4) - without the latter's coquetry. He takes full advantage of the striking seed pearl and lace filigree, and ermine fringed sleeves of her dress. The gloved arms are a tour-de-force recalling Ingres' Mlle Rivière in the Louvre, while the face is framed by diamond pendent earrings (FIG 5, sold in the sale of Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels, Geneva, 17 May 2011, Lot 417). This finery, according to The Athenaeum, gave the sitter 'an air of social importance'.
Such an exquisite confection would be no more than that, were it not for the subtle modeling of the Rose's face, neck and shoulders. Formality and regal bearing do not obscure the sympathetic personality that Collins Baker, writing for The Saturday Review, described as an 'interpretive reading' of character. No other portrait of illustrious ancestors in Headfort House could compare with this masterly characterization of the fourth Marchioness. When it was shown alongside his Lily Carstairs (FIG 6) at the Royal Academy in 1915, a reviewer in The Studio compared it favourably with Sargent's portraits of Lord Curzon and FJH Jenkinson, Cambridge University Librarian, saying simply that it 'should be ranked unquestionably among the very few outstanding works in the show'.
Being the first Academy following the outbreak of hostilities, many reviewers concentrated exclusively upon representations of war and some portrait painters eschewed their normal practice to record its tragic effects - in Lavery's case, for instance, The Arrival of the First Wounded at London Hospital. Some of Orpen's portrait commissions were cancelled and he increasingly felt he should be elsewhere - he did not finally reach the Western Front until April 1917. Rose sat out the war awaiting her husband's return, and during the Free State years supported her husband in his role as Senator. It was only in the 1940s and 50s that memories of her early life were stirred in reunions with former 'Gaiety Girls'. By that stage, the heady Edwardian years of the Ascendancy had passed and the Headfort demesne was sinking into decay. And one of the splendid relics of those years when Rose was a model hostess, loved by her tenants and guests alike, was this glittering portrait by William Orpen.
The Orpen Research Project would like to thank Michael D.C. Bolton for his assistance.
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