Lot 30
  • 30

RODERIC O'CONOR | 'Romeo and Juliet'

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • 'Romeo and Juliet'
  • studio stamp atelier O'CONOR verso
  • oil on canvas
  • 65 by 54cm., 25½ by 21¼in.
  • Painted circa 1898-1900.


Studio of the artist;
Hotel Drouot, Paris, 7 February 1956;
Roland Browse & Delbanco, London;
Henry M. Roland Collection;
Laurence Powell, Donegal, Ireland, 1995


Manchester and Leeds City Art Galleries, Modern Works from the Collection of Dr Henry Roland, 1962, no.87;
Bristol City Art Gallery, 40 Works from the Collection of Henry Roland, 1969, no.28;
Turin Museo Civico, 1969;
Cork, Crawford Municipal School of Art, 1971, no.103;
Guildford Festival, 32 Paintings and Drawings from the Roland Collection, 1973, no.24;
Birmingham, City Museum and Art Gallery, 40 Pictures from the Roland Collection 1974, no.31;
Folkestone Arts Centre, The Roland Collection, 1975, no.66;
London, Camden Arts Centre, The Roland Collection, 1976, no.98;
Edinburgh, Scottish Arts Council Gallery, 1976, no.21;
Rochdale Art Gallery, July 1978, no.42;
London, Courtauld Institute Galleries, Works from the Roland Collection, Arts Council U.K. tour, 1979, no.34;
Pont-Aven Musée, 1984, no.34;
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 1985, no.75;
London, Barbican Art Gallery, 1985, no.50, with tour to Belfast, Ulster Museum and Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland;
Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, 1985, no.50;
Boston, Boston College Museum of Art, America’s Eye: Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 26 January - 19 May 1996, no.38, illustrated p.126, with tour to Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 19 June - 25 August 1996 and New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 25 September 1997 - 4 January 1998;
Washington, John F. Kennedy Center, Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 13 - 28 May 2000, illustrated p.73;
Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, A Century of Irish Painting: Selections from the Brian P. Burns Collection, 3 March - 29 April 2007, illustrated p.87


Cyril Barett, 'Irish Art in the 19th Century,' in Connoisseur, December 1971, p.253;
Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, The Painters of Ireland, 1660 - 1920, London 1978, p.262-63;
Jonathan Benington, 'From Realism to Expressionism: The Early Career of Roderic O'Conor' in Apollo, April 1985, p.257-58;
Henry Roland, Behind the Facade: Recollections of an Art Dealer, London, 1991, cover illustration;
Jonathan Benington, Roderic O'Conor: a Biography, with a Catalogue of His Work, Dublin, 1992, p.200-01, no.90;
Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, Ireland's Painters 1600 - 1940, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2002, no.360, illustrated p.264;
Turlough McConnell, ‘Boston College, Guardians of Irish Culture’ in Irish America Magazine, 2006, no.14, illustrated;
Susan Moore, ‘Land of Heart’s Desire’, in Apollo, September 2009, no.9, illustrated p.69


The following condition report has been prepared by Hamish Dewar Ltd. UNCONDITIONAL AND WITHOUT PREJUDICE Structural Support The canvas has been strip-lined onto a new wooden stretcher. The reverse of the canvas has an application of adhesive. This has successfully secured the pattern of drying craquelure,particularly within the thicker impasto, which is very characteristic of O'Conor. A studio stamp is visible on the reverse of the original canvas. Paint surface The paint surface has a slightly opaque varnish layer and would benefit from surface cleaning and revarnishing, although it should be stressed that no further work is required for reasons of conservation. Inspection under ultraviolet light shows fine lines of inpainting within the hairline craquelure mentioned above, a very small area in the lower left of the composition and other small scattered retouchings. There may be further retouchings beneath the rather opaque varnish layers that are not easily identifiable under ultraviolet light. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in good and stable and would respond well to surface cleaning and revarnishing should this be required. FRAME Held in a gilt plaster frame ready to hang.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This extraordinary painting, Roderic O'Conor's answer to The Kiss by Edvard Munch, belongs to a group of imaginative compositions the Irish artist worked on during the closing years of the nineteenth century. Living in isolation in the small Breton town of Rochefort-en-terre, whilst keeping in touch by letter with Gauguin, de Chamaillard and Seguin, O'Conor composed from memory to create works of symbolist intent. These paintings conveyed highly charged emotions through their reliance on a rich palette of colours. Pinks, oranges and crimsons were wedded to subjects that dealt with surprising and unexpected encounters, engendering an impulsive or, as here, a romantic reaction from his protagonists. In Romeo and Juliet the composition is carefully constructed on two intersecting diagonals, whilst the fiery colours that envelop the couple push them closer to the picture plane and intensify the ardour of their embrace. The woman's billowing dress and her upraised foot indicate that she has just rushed into her partner's arms, throwing her head back as he bends to kiss her. A sense of arrested movement also finds expression in the repeated contours behind the man's legs, and in the diagonal folds that run down the side of the woman's dress. The setting for the couple's tryst is a moonlit garden bordered by trees and a colonnade, with the moon shining down from the right hand side such that their faces remain in shadow and almost appear to fuse together. The deliberate suppression of facial features and other details seems to allude to the loss of individuality inherent in an erotic act.

O'Conor owned two lithographs by Edvard Munch dating from 1896-97, a period when the Norwegian artist was living and working in Paris. It is highly likely O'Conor saw the ten paintings from the Frieze of Life, including The Kiss, that Munch exhibited at the 1897 Salon des Indépendants. Instead of mimicking the earlier composition, however, with its covert indoor embrace conducted in semi-darkness, O'Conor places his couple in an outdoor setting where their behaviour could be viewed as a reaction to, or reflection of, the circumstances they have just witnessed. The heavy build-up of paint in Romeo and Juliet, with its scumbled textures and bold sweeps of the palette knife, further distances it from the painterly, highly gestural brushstrokes employed by Munch.

Romeo and Juliet was owned by the art dealer Henry Roland for over thirty years. Having rediscovered O'Conor at the 1956 sale of his studio in Paris, Roland was given this painting as a present by his partners, thereby exempting it from the solo exhibitions mounted over the years by Roland, Browse & Delbanco in Cork Street. The title of the painting was Roland's own invention, in default of any title being handed down by the artist. When the work was featured in the One Man's Choice exhibition of Roland's private collection in Edinburgh, alongside pieces by Bonnard, Ernst, Klee, Matisse, Moore and Picasso, its owner noted in the catalogue: 'The drama of his [O'Conor's] young lovers is played out entirely in colours, hot and passionate. A complete union of French and Irish temperament' (One Man's Choice: Selected by Dr Henry Roland from his own collection and from other sources, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 1985, p. 18).

Jonathan Benington