Lot 33: Sir William Orpen RA RWS RHA (1878-1931)Portrait of Mrs Oscar Lewisohn, formerly Miss Edna MayOil on canvas, 202 x 92cm (79½ x 36¼'')SignedProvenance: Christies “Irish Sale” 22nd May 1998 Lot No. 29 where purchased by current owners. Literature

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December 7, 2016, 6:00 PM GMT
Dublin 2, Ireland
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Description: Sir William Orpen RA RWS RHA (1878-1931)Portrait of Mrs Oscar Lewisohn, formerly Miss Edna MayOil on canvas, 202 x 92cm (79½ x 36¼'')SignedProvenance: Christies “Irish Sale” 22nd May 1998 Lot No. 29 where purchased by current owners. Literature:The Artist’s Studio Book, 28-15/1915;Cara Copland Reference: LO3:11;Laib Glass Negative Number: 8154;P.G. Konody & S. Dark, Sir William Orpen: Artist and Man, 1932, p. 270, illustrated pl.6;Bruce Arnold, Mirror to an Age, 1981, p. 298“Smurfit Art Collection 2001” Full page illustration p. 39The figure is Edna Lewisohn - better known as Edna May - her stage name on Broadway in the leading roles of Edwardian Musical comedies. Born Edna May Pettie in September 1878 in Syracuse, New York, the daughter of a postman, her story is one of social migration, from a working class background to a renowned Broadway star. She started her career at the tender age of five, working as a child performer before leaving for New York at sixteen to study theatre at the New York Conservatoire, making her debut appearance on Broadway in 1896. Her big break came as Violet Grey in the musical comedy The Belle of New York, which after transferring to Shaftesbury Theatre became a huge success, running for 697 performances. The inclusion of both her names within the title of the painting is telling of her success, independent from that of her marriage to New York millionaire Oscar Lewisohn. After her marriage to Lewisohn in 1907 she retired from the stage to focus on her role as a devoted wife. The couple had no children and a decade later Lewisohn was dead. Edna outlived her late husband by thirty years returning to London in 1917 where she resided in The Ritz before leaving for Lausanne in Switzerland where she died in 1948. Orpen painted this work in 1915 when the couple were about to close their house at Cranbourne Court near Windsor and return to New York. There is a scrutiny to the painting, which makes it an incredibly compelling portrait. Our in-depth knowledge of Edna’s personal life has a direct impact on how we read the work. The emotional tenor of the painting is enhanced by our preconceived ideas of knowing the sitter, albeit considerably heightened for her contemporaries in early 20th century. In his portraiture Orpen attempts to read the character of the individual whether expressed through temperament or style, their faces or their clothes. In the same year Orpen would paint another two full length portraits of society women, Madame Eugenia Errazuriz (1915, Mildura Arts Centre, Australia) and Lady Idina Wallace (1915, Private Collection). The angling of the chequered floor and her pointed satin slipper emerging from beneath her dress draws the viewers eye up the length of her body to the her face. The details are subtle, nothing over powers the sitter, instead the dabs of pure white highlight on the sapphire ring or pearl necklace act as visual delights for the viewer’s eye to dance over as they peruse the painting. Or the rich blue cape draping along the floor as if it has slipped from her shoulders upon returning home from another glamorous cocktail party. The viewer is repaid for their attention to the details of texture and colour in the work as on closer inspection the white of the dress is in fact made up of a myriad of hues- blue, greens and brown undertones- to enhance the lustre and sheen of the silk dress. Though presented as a full-length portrait, a formidable and striking format, the face belies vulnerability. Her radiance as a performer and striking beauty is not diminished in the work despite the fact that she appears sad, her face flooded with emotion and feeling, her eyes almost glassy with tears. We can only speculate about the reason behind such melancholy, an unhappy marriage, a highly successful career abandoned in favour of being an attentive and dutiful wife There is nowhere for the figure to hide in Orpen’s portrait, set against the inky black backdrop, no character for her to adopt or costume to put on, Edna is utterly exposed. We acknowledge with thanks the Orpen Research Project whose research and writings formed the basis of this catalogue entry. Niamh Corcoran, November 2016
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Important Irish Art 7th December 2016

by
Adam's
December 7, 2016, 6:00 PM GMT

Dublin 2, Ireland

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