In Girl Reading the recumbent figure, dressed in a long skirt and seated on a chaise longue with her book facing the windows at her back, is within touching distance of well stocked shelves, three large vases and a sculpture of a nude female figure (its gestures echo those seen in the reliefs from the Javanese temple of Borobodur that so influenced Gauguin). O'Conor would have lent the model one of the books from his extensive private library, for he was a talented amateur bibliophile.
By directing his gaze downwards and cropping the tall studio windows and wooden beams above them, the artist ensure his young model is fully integrated into the interior that surrounds her. The space is truncated by placing the figure close to a corner of the room, with a glazed cabinet positioned in front of the dividing wall. The effect of such deliberate stage-setting is to create the impression of a modestly scaled but comfortable domestic interior. In reality, however, O'Conor's studio was much more capacious and workaday. To reinforce the relaxed, casual ambience he has deployed a palette of bright colours, coupled with the same type of loose, gestural brushwork that he used for the first time in his Breton seascapes. The spectator becomes a voyeur, glimpsing a moment of quiet self-absorption, with the model blissfully unaware of our presence.
At the time this canvas was painted O'Conor was in his late forties, Fauvism was well established and Picasso had recently completed Les demoiselles d'Avignon, heralding the advent of Cubism. Despite witnessing these developments as a fully fledged participant in the Parisian art scene, O'Conor remained true to his principles of rendering observed forms faithfully in natural light. He greatly admired Auguste Renoir's sensuous handling of paint and his predilection for colours from the warm end of the spectrum. Like Renoir, O'Conor tended to work directly, drawing and painting at the same time.
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