Hotel Drouot, Paris, Vente O'Conor, 7 February 1956
Copenhagen, Winkel and Magnussen, Gauguin og Hans Venner (Gauguin and his friends), 1956, no.101;
Limerick, Hunt Museum, Roderic O'Conor - Shades of a Master, 2003, no.18 as Villas near the sea.
Jonathan Benington, Roderic O'Conor, A Biography with a Catalogue of his Work, Dublin 1992, no.188 as Villas near the sea.
Executed in 1913.
In the early years of the 20th century, the landscape and the coastal environment in the south of France attracted many Paris-based artists, particularly those associated with the emergence of Fauvism in the 1905 Salon d'Automne. At numerous sites along the Mediterranean coastline, including those at Collioure, Cassis, la Ciotat and Saint Tropez, the artists enjoyed a relaxed and easy lifestyle with inexpensive accommodation in family run hotels. The natural environment offered a wide range of colour, textures and subject matter bathed in a clear and piercing light which enriched their paintings with hot and contrasting colours used at full strength.
Landscape was always a passion for Roderic O'Conor from his earliest days in France and Brittany, and after an extended trip to Spain in 1912 following a visit to Italy in the preceding year he must have felt a compelling need to return to landscape themes. In search of a location that would be quite different from Paris, where he had been living for nine years, he looked south to the Midi. His choice was Cassis, an ancient village with a long history as a fishing port, 20 kilometres to the east of Marseille. Cassis had a cluster of picturesque buildings grouped around a sheltered bay that provided an ideal harbour for the numerous boats anchored there. The village was dominated by a ridge of mountains running down to the sea on the eastern edge of the bay, terminating in a large rocky peak known as Cap Canaille. This peak appears in several striking paintings that O'Conor painted during the summer of 1913.
O'Conor rented a villa early in the year with the intention of working in Cassis for an extended period of time. The Fauve painter Charles Camoin, whom O'Conor knew, stayed in the hotel Cendrillon that summer and in a letter to the English art critic Clive Bell, O'Conor wrote that Manguin and Marquet were also active in the area (undated letter from Clive Bell to Roderic O'Conor, OCCB 10b, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin).
After a productive summer O'Conor wrote in October to Bell, "I have been here most of the summer and have just now arrived from Paris where I was a couple of weeks for the Salon d'Automne." That year he showed six paintings in all, three of which had a specific reference to Cassis in their titles. They attracted the attention of the distinguished critic and poet, Guillaume Apollinaire who wrote in his review of the exhibition, "Salle XII. Le mordant, bon peintre de la Bretagne O'Connor (sic) qui conserve avec un soin jaloux la tradition qu'il reçut de Gauguin....." (G. Apollinaire, L'Intransigeant, 18 November 1913, "Room XII..The caustic, good painter of Brittany O'Connor (sic) who jealously preserves the tradition that he received from Gauguin...").
O'Conor's rented property, Villa Marguerite, was a large and rather grand home on a narrow street in an old part of the town. It had a shady, walled garden with trees and a balcony to the rear which gave O'Conor an elevated view of the Cassis rooftops in the valley. It is this view that is depicted in this lively painting. Landscape with view over the sea is a good example of the directness of approach that first appeared in O'Conor's work soon after he moved to France. Using minimal preliminary drawing, and sometimes none at all, he worked over a lightly stained ground quickly setting down areas of colour and texture using a brush well charged with thick paint. He often allowed areas of the canvas to show through, which brought an expressive and emotional quality into his work. The scale and spontaneity of this particular work suggests that it was probably a preliminary painting or study for the larger work known as The Balustrade, acquired by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 1971. Both paintings share a similar colour range, composition and general view.
Landscape with a view over the sea was the first in a group of four O'Conor paintings (three landscapes and one of a model resting in the studio) which were shown in an important exhibition Gauguin og hans Venner (Gauguin and his friends) held in Copenhagen in 1956. Included were paintings by the French artists Emile Bernard, Maurice Denis, Charles Filiger, Charles Laval, Armand Seguin (O'Conor's closest friend in Brittany), Emile Schuffenecker and Paul Sérusier. Gauguin, as the catalyst to this group, was represented by more than 30 paintings. The exhibition took place within a few months of the studio dispersal sale of O'Conor's paintings in Paris and placed O'Conor in distinguished company along with the other artists from Pont-Aven who were members of Paul Gauguin's circle or were affiliated with him.
Roy Johnston Ph.D.
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