Hotel Drouot, Paris, Vente O'Conor, 6 February 1956, lot 145 as 'Vase de Fleurs';
Schoneman Gallery, New York;
Pittsburg, Carnegie Institute of Art, International Exhibition, 1925, no.92.
Executed circa 1923 - 24.
The dispersal sale of the contents of Roderic O'Conor's studio at Hôtel Drouot in Paris in 1956 was a two-day event. Most of O'Conor's paintings were sold in groups with his wife's (Renée Honta) pictures on the second day of the sale. On February 6, the first day of the sale was devoted to works in O'Conor's collection including a fine selection of prints by Bonnard, Cezanne, van Gogh, Goya, Manet, Redon, Renoir, Seguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Munch, and thirty-seven works by Gauguin. Among the paintings sold were works by Derain, Dunoyer de Segonzac, Filiger, Gauguin, Luce, Modigliani, Ortiz de Zarate, Slewinski and Vlaminck. Seven signed paintings by O'Conor were included with this group, and all of these paintings were separately listed in the Drouot catalogue and sold on the first day. This painting of a bouquet of flowers was listed as "Vase de fleurs" although O'Conor had previously exhibited it in the 1925 Carnegie International exhibition in Pittsburgh under the simpler title "Flowers". He was also represented in the 1924 Carnegie exhibition with a picture titled "Fruits."
The Carnegie International exhibition at one of America's finest museums grew steadily in reputation after its establishment in 1896. In order to give the widest possible representation to contemporary art practices the selection process was based on a tiered system. Separate advisory committees representing the United States, Great Britain, France, other European countries and American artists living in Europe, nominated artists to the organisers in Pittsburgh in the winter. The exhibition Director, Homer Saint-Gaudens, then travelled to Europe the following spring to visit studios. An international jury convened in Pittsburg to make final selections and award prizes. Truly a major international exhibition it included in 1925 work by Pierre Bonnard, Matisse, Monet, Utrillo, van Dongen, John Singer Sargent, Sickert, Picasso and Kokoshka, as well as John Lavery and Jack Yeats.
It is likely that O'Conor's name came before the advisory committee from Britain on the recommendation of Roger Fry, who was a frequent visitor to Paris in the 1920s and who had been introduced to O'Conor by Clive Bell. Both men recruited O'Conor as their guide around the Parisian galleries and exhibitions on their visits to Paris. Fry, who organised the first Post-Impressionist exhibitions seen in London in 1910 and 1912 at the Grafton Galleries, purchased his first painting from O'Conor in Paris in 1915, and over the years added works by Bonnard, Matisse, Rouault and Derain. As Denys Sutton observed (Fry) "became known as the spokesman of these men in England" (D.Sutton, Letters of Roger Fry, London 1972, XIII, p.65). Early in 1924 Fry wrote to Vanessa Bell that he just visited O'Conor in his studio and bought a painting. That occasion would have given him the opportunity to see a cross section of O'Conor's recent work, leading him to comment in the letter, "also O'Conor gets better and better" (D.Sutton, op.cit, letter dated March 6th 1924 to Vanessa Bell, no.543). This purchase visit was probably the contact with the influential Fry that prompted him to nominate O'Conor to the Carnegie selection committee.
This bouquet of pink flowers placed in a ceramic jug from the town of Quimper in Brittany shows O'Conor at his most confident, analysing his subject matter with the experienced eye of an artist in full control of his medium. Light coming from the studio window to his right illuminates the bouquet against a dark background. There is a liberal use of the palette knife throughout and O'Conor has applied the paint with a strong sense of directness and gusto. A similar painting by O'Conor, also depicting a jug of flowers placed on the same square dish with rounded corners, was purchased by Somerset Maugham from a Salon Exhibition in Paris in the 1920s (S.Maugham, Purely for my pleasure, 1962, p.8, illustrated pl.V).
Roy Johnston Ph.D.
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