Details & Cataloguing

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns


Walter Frederick Osborne, R.H.A


Violet Stockley, Dublin;
Sotheby's, London, 21 May 1999, lot 297


Washington, John F. Kennedy Center, Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 13 - 28 May 2000, illustrated p.80

Catalogue Note

The Osbornes were a close, united family, and the artist’s mother is featured in several pictures, paintings, drawings and a pastel by him. Annie Jane Woods was born in November 1825 to the Woods family, who had a small estate in Co. Limerick.1 She married William Osborne, a professional animal painter, and the couple lived at 5 Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines, Co. Dublin. They had three children: Charles, Walter and Violet. Walter Osborne returned from England in the early 1890s to live with his family, and assisted looking after his niece Violet. In 1903 Annie Osborne presented the Self Portrait by the artist to the National Gallery of Ireland.

She was a patient model and she can be seen in several pictures, such as in the pastel Annie Osborne aged sixty seven, 1892 (sold Sotheby's, London, 21 May 1998, lot 319) and in At the Breakfast Table, 1894 (see lot 55). The Artist’s Mother shows Annie a few years later, around 1900, seated in a shadowy room, with a fireplace on the left, and framed pictures just visible on the wall. She is shown nearly in profile wearing a long black dress and reading a newspaper.

The genre of elderly women seated in interiors, perhaps knitting, sitting near a fireplace, looking out a doorway or reflecting upon their lives, became popular amongst Realist painters of the late 19th century. Most notable is Josef Israels’ Growing Old, c. 1878 (Gemeentemuseum, The Hague), showing a woman seated by a fire warming her hands. Several pictures by A. Mouette depict an elderly woman knitting, counting her beads, or seated near a fire,3 while John Henshell’s watercolour Le Journal4 features a woman seated near a fire, a newspaper on her lap.

There was a strong tradition amongst artists of portraying their mothers. Osborne’s painting is strikingly similar in composition to Whistler’s celebrated portrait of his mother Arrangement in Grey and Black, 1871 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) which shows the elderly woman on the right, a curtain (rather than the fireplace) on the left, and pictures on the walls, and both artists used earthy, muted tones. However, Osborne’s picture lacks the formality of Whistler’s, is painted directly in a loose, sketchy style, and conveys a sense of his affection for his mother.

Julian Campbell

1Jeanne Sheehy, Walter Osborne, Ballycotton, 1974, p. 9; and Sotheby’s, London, 21 May 1998, p.109.
3Exhibited at Salon Nationale, Paris, 1891, 1892 and 1899. Other interiors include those by Helen M. Trevor.

4Le Journal by John Henry Henshall, in British and European Art, Bonhams, 20 March 2018, lot 23

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns