William Orpen was born in Stillorgan in 1878. He attended Dublin’s Metropolitan School of Art (now the NCAD) from the age of 12 and at 17 he went to London’s Slade School Of Art & Design and as he was so skilled an artist he went straight into the second year where it was not uncommon for his fellow students to gather around him and watch in awe as he sketched and painted.
He soon became a very sought after artist, painting portraits of the rich and famous. In fact some of his clients even came from America. He regularly returned to Dublin to teach in his old school and to take a holiday. He is credited with introducing an new era of painting to Ireland and many of his students went on to become world renowned artists.
When World War 1 broke out he felt an obligation to do his bit and joined the Service Corp and was sent to France as a war artist. Bruce Arnold quotes the following: “I have never had any hesitation in describing William Orpen as the greatest of all war artists, out-rivalling in earlier centuries Francisco Goya, Jacques Callot and the many masters of the Italian Renaissance who depicted the regular states in warfare of their times”.