“I’ll paint you as you are, bonnet and all”

William Orpen (1878-1931) was an amazing painter. From London salons to the battlefields of World War One, he painted some amazing portraits. In particular a portrait of a soldier about to go off to fight, his hands clutching his rifle, his eyes showing the fear of the inevitable, is incredibly powerful.

Detail of A Grenadier Guardsman (1917) by William Orpen. Copied from http://www.sirwilliamorpen.com/

I’d never heard of Orpen before the other day when the latest Watts Gallery newsletter arrived letting us know of all the most excellent things to come. He is the subject of the latest exhibition at the gallery and today we went and saw it.

Of course I went to the shops first, marvelling at the warmth provided by the mist in the park. It always amazes me how the temperature rises when the mist descends. Even when the mist is heavy with water droplets that spray against the face.

Misty path

Back at home, Mirinda was chatting to Bob and Fi and, for a pleasant change, Lauren and Jason. The latter provided her with lots information regarding the various reasons for choosing particular Queensland universities over other particular Queensland universities with an emphasis on how much gaming you wish to pursue.

It was all very interesting…I suppose.

Then, after her farewells, we took Max for a spin up to Compton.

We decided to have lunch at the little tea room and happily tucked into Welsh rarebit (me) and quiche (Mirinda) before heading up to the gallery to partake of some mental nourishment.

Watts Gallery driveway

I’ve mentioned many, many times how I love discovering new artists and I think the reason why is because it gives me the opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Sometimes that vision is quite frightening, other times a bit unsettling, in the case of William Orpen it’s an extraordinary glimpse at the beauty of the human form.

Mind you, in saying the above, my favourite piece (the one I’d be happy to hang at home) was a scene rather than a portrait. It was The Studio (c 1910). For me, his depiction of the light coming through the French doors, wrapping the scene of artist and model in warmth, was absolutely exquisite.

Mirinda’s favourite was The Refugee (1918) which he claimed was of a German spy who had been taken away by the French and shot but was actually, Yvonne Aubicq, his mistress. He managed to get into trouble with the war office over his deception and I really have no idea why he bothered to make up the story when his portrait was stunning regardless of the story.

However, the exhibition was about more than just ‘pretty pictures’. It also delved into how he managed to create his paintings using various techniques to glimpse the work beneath the finished objects. There were also his early sketches of his Homage to Manet (1906-09) which showed, among other things, the way the finished painting evolved from the preliminary line drawings.

The exhibition also examined his early years studying at the Slade School. The whole thing was both fascinating and enjoyable.

Sneak Attack – Mirinda admiring The Grenadier Guardsman

Of course, as usual, photographs are not allowed so I had to take the rather surreptitious shot above (like I generally do) when the room steward had his back turned.

Actually, in comparing the photo above with the last exhibition we attended (John Frederick Lewis), the difference in lighting is extraordinary. I realise most exhibitions are dark because light can affect the paintings but the Orpen exhibition was positively bright.

Suffice it to say, we both enjoyed the exhibition very much, as well as lunch out.

Speaking of food, for dinner tonight I made Syrian meatballs (first time) which met with great approval and a demand that they be added to the general Chez Gaz menu. I thought they’d be a brilliant tapas dish.

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