Vente O'Conor, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 7 February 1956;
Sale, Hôtel Drouot, 14 October 1968;
Schoneman Gallery, New York;
Godolphin Gallery, Dublin, 1981;
Jonathan Benington, Roderic O'Conor 1860-1940, A Biography with a Catalogue of his Work, Dublin 1992, no. 251, as Still life with cauliflower, a vase of flowers and a platter.
Executed circa 1926.
This fine still life, painted in O'Conor's Montparnasse studio, makes masterful use of light, colour and texture to create a painting which ranks with his best work in this genre. Using a light-to-dark transition in the background in contrast with the incident light on the still life objects which comes from the opposite direction, O'Conor creates a pictorial structure which is present in almost every still life that he painted. The manipulation and control of light in this way gave him the opportunity to create passages of extreme subtlety in contrast with expressive boldness in the modulation of colour and changes of tone.
O'Conor's preferences for traditional subject matter associated with the artists studio at this stage in his career were conditioned by several factors. The restrictions in movement during the First World War detached O'Conor from his landscape sources, and by the time the war ended he was adjusted to a life style which for four years had kept him close to his studio and the Montparnasse district where he lived. He was in his mid-sixties when he painted this work and excursions to the countryside may have become too troublesome to plan and undertake. By this time he had been living in Paris for more than 20 years and the Montparnasse quarter and its artist cafes and restaurants had become his home.
In his still life subjects O'Conor could approximate the same values which were the primary concern of his earlier landscapes. The natural forms of fruit, flowers and vegetables seem to compensate for lack of easy access to the landscape. The interplay of light and shade across these natural forms and on the large platter is the distinguishing feature in this work. By placing the group on a narrow shelf, possibly a bookcase or small table in a corner of his studio, he created a composition that captures the light flooding in to the studio. His control of the light and his placement of the objects give a heightened sense of drama to the arrangement through a challenging range of light and dark contrasts. The painting technique in this work makes use of the palette knife in building up and defining the forms of the objects. Brush techniques are understated in comparison and confined largely to the background.
The painting shares similar characteristics with a companion work, probably painted around the same time and also known as Choufleur, which was bought directly from O'Conor by Somerset Maugham, remaining in his collection for many years.
Roy Johnston Ph.D.
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