William Orpen (British, 1878–1931)

ca. 1910
Oil on canvas
H. 40-1/8, W. 33-1/8 inches (101.9 x 84.1 cm.)
Credit Line:
Gift of George F. Baker, 1914
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Born in Ireland, William Orpen studied in Dublin from 1892 to 1896 and went to London for further study at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1896. For the rest of his life, he lived and worked in London. There he received a number of honors, including membership in the New English Art Club, a governmental appointment as an official war artist during World War I, and a knighthood in 1918. He continued to work as a fashionable portrait painter during the 1920s, portraying wealthy and prestigious sitters in a traditional, highly polished style that rejected more recent developments in avant-garde art. He also produced a number of realistic self-portraits, both before and after the war, including Myself and Cupid (1910, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh) and Ready to Start (1917, Imperial War Museum, London).

    This self-portrait, also known as Leading the Life in the West, refers to Orpen's life as a young artist in the West End of London. Orpen stands reflected full-length in a mirror in his studio, wearing a bowler hat and holding gloves and a riding crop. A shelf below the mirror holds paintbrushes and rags, the tools of the artist's trade, as well as several bottles of liquor. Various pieces of correspondence, including an I.O.U. signed by Orpen, are tucked behind the frame of the mirror, further testifying to the pleasures and distractions of the painter's early career. The space of the picture is shallow but complex, with Orpen using his skills as a draftsman to resolve the challenges of surface, lighting, and reflection that he has set for himself.

  • Exhibition History

    New York: Knoedler and Co. March 25 - April 4, 1914. ¦An Exhibition of Recent Works by Sir William Orpen¦. Item #10, ¦Leading the Life in the West¦.

    New York: Museum of Irish Art, November 23, 1934 - May 28, 1935.

    New York: National Arts Club, January 30, 1942 - March 7, 1942.

    Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, February 5 - March 14, 1971.

    London, England: Imperial War Museum, January 27-May 2, 2005; Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, May 25-August 28, 2005; William Orpen: Politics, Sex and Death. p. 95, plate 27, illus. in color.

  • References

    "What Is Happening In The World of Art." The Sun (New York), March 29, 1914. Section 8, page 2. (illustrated)
    Paloma Alarco, Malcolm Warner, eds. The Mirror and The Mask: Portraiture in the Age of Picasso, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, February 6 - May 20, 2007; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, June 17-September 16, 2007, ill. p. 20, p. 21 (discussed). (ill. in color)

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History