Friday, February 19, 2010

(Sir) William Newenham Montague Orpen - Study for the Holy Well

signed l.l.: ORPEN; inscribed l.r.: Kneeling boy to cover/ her back

pencil with watercolour
20 1/4 by 16 1/2 in.

10,000—15,000 GBP
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 42,000 GBP

Ireland) painted in 1916 and exhibited at the New English Arts Club in that year. This large tempera painting satirised the vogue for Celtic themes in Irish art, depicting figures representing pagan Ireland undressing to drink from a sacred well to transform them into Arran islanders. Celtic crosses and the recognisable sixth and seventh century beehive dwellings of Arran complete the allegory. Sketches of the island were sent to Orpen by his friend the artist Sean Keating who is depicted prominently in The Holy Well standing above the well itself. The conception of the painting is explained by Bruce Arnold 'In the autumn of 1915 Keating brought back to London as a gift for Orpen a collection of tweed and wool clothes from Arran, including Bainini, crois, white trousers, coloured socks, hats and woven jackets. Orpen was delighted. They laid out the clothes in the studio, and then the artist rang up his home and told his wife and children and their cousin Eileen to come round. 'They dressed up', says Keating, 'and then all danced a sarabande around the studio!' The painting grew out of that afternoon.' (Bruce Arnold, Orpen - Mirror to an Age, 1981, p. 293)

The present drawing may have been owned by Mrs St George who was the first owner of The Holy Well and was sent several preparatory sketches by Orpen whilst he was at work upon the canvas. The inscription on the study refers to the figure of a young boy kneeling next to this figure in the final painting. A figure drawing for the boy has a similar quality of line (Sotheby's, New York, Property of the Estates of David M. Daniels and Stevan Beck Baloga, 29 October 2002, lot 153).

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