Sir William Orpen Blog » Blog

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    Welcome to the Sir William Orpen Blog by Dominic Lee.

    The aim of this blog is to give you an insight into the life and times of Stillorgan born artist Sir William Orpen. My research began nearly five years ago, when, just like Orpen I had a dream that Dublin would one day see fit to honor this fascinating Irish Artist. An exhibition of some of Orpen's works went on display in Stillorgan Village Shopping center in 2013 when the plans to erect a sculpture of Orpen were revealed. The Sculpture is now complete but we still require funding for the installation. If you wish to support this wonderful initiative in Stillorgan, Co.Dublin, please get in touch with us via email 105,110,102,111,64,115,105,114,119,105,108,108,105,97,109,111,114,112,101,110,46,99,111,109moc.nepromailliwris@ofni or telephone

Review of an Exhibition at The New English Art Club in the Pall Mall Gazette – 15th November 1900 by Alice Meynell.

“The Mirror” and “Soldiers at Cany” by William Orpen.

“The Mirror” by William Orpen (1900) Tate.

Mr. William Orpen shows much more than promise in “The Mirror” a beautiful piece of painting, keen, yet broad, and curious in quality, like and yet unlike a Millais of the “Blind Girl” .

“The Blind Girl”  by John Everett Millais (1854). Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.

Mr. Orpen, who had a most solid kind of drawing, paints with a grand delicacy such passages as the tender light reflected upwards on the hat shadowed eyelids of a little face—or rather, the space between eyebrow and eyelid. The model sits in intense white light and wears a white bodice, and this shadow beneath her hat-brim is full of colour, and thus exquisitely pencilled with reflections. There is a little curve of light that sometimes comes around the iris—something quite different from the usual sparkle, and more Interior; this Mr. Orpen has seen and has rendered with infinite softness in a most living eye of this tiny face. The wall is plain, and in the midst a circular mirror reflects’ with an increase of crystalline affect the bright things in the room, beautifully painted; but the girl’s face is the triumph. It is not easy to see the same hand in the black shadows of the “Portrait of Herbert Everett”.


                Herbert Barnard John Everett by William Orpen (1900) National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

The landscape of the “Cany,” also by Mr. Orpen, is strongly and simply painted and lighted by a sun that leaves the trees deep in colour; the painting of the little village and the wood has that beautiful keen execution so perfect in the “Mirror.” It is best not to profess to understand the figures—four French soldiers of strange construction marching with stranger action. We need not think that a fine artist would take
means so cheap to cause astonishment as an end to be gained; but we can hardly allow the puzzling of the public to be worth doing even as a kind of incident.

“Soldiers at Cany” by William Orpen (1900). British Government Art Collection.


Post by Dominic Lee.

See also: –

Sir Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE (born 19 June 1861 – died 29 January 1928).

Douglas Haig, diary – 11th May 1917.

“Major Orpen, the artist, came to lunch. I told him that every facility would be given him to study the life and surroundings of our troops in the field, so that he can really paint pictures of lasting value. The War Office already wanted to see the results of his labours in return for the pay which he is now receiving! As if he were a sausage machine into which so much meat is put, and the handle is turned and out come the sausages! But war is a fickle mistress!”

Douglas Haig at GHQ, France, by William Orpen (1917) IWM.

Douglas Haig was born in Edinburgh (1861) one of 11 children to the Haig Whisky family. He went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in 1884. Later serving as a cavalry officer in India, the Sudan and the Boer War. None of which prepared him for his next task – World War One where he initially served under Sir John French  from 1914 to 1915 but subsequently replaced French as Commander-in-Chief.

 In 1916 Haig orchestrated the battle of the Somme which resulted in the greatest loss of life in British Military history – 20,000 British lives were lost on the first day alone. When the battle ended they had gained 10 miles of land with the loss of 600,000 men on the Allies side. German casualties were in the region of 500,000.

Loos, Arras, Cambrai and Passchendaele were more bloodbaths which Haig is blamed for. Passchendaele alone suffered 310,000 casualties on the British side. The fact that Haig killed more German than British soldiers was probably his saving grace.

Sir John French then became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Viceroy) in 1918, a position he held throughout much of the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922).

Sir John French – Earl of Ypres by William Orpen (Irish Guards Museum).

Divided Opinions: –

Haig and the British Prime Minister – David Lloyd George, did not see eye-to-eye but they both supported the idea of a single command of allied forces on the Western Front under the French commander Ferdinand Foch. And this ultimately led to the end of the war in 1918. Although in the 30’s Lloyd George wrote that Haig was opposed to the idea and added that Haig was ‘brilliant to the top of his Army boots’.

 Alan Clark (MP) quoted “Tommies were “lions led by donkeys and the biggest donkey of all was Haig”.

David Lloyd George by William Orpen (1919).  National Museum Wales. 


Marshal Ferdinand Foch by William Orpen (1918). Imperial War Museum.

Although there is a perception that Haig had a dislike of Catholics, Col Eugene “Mickey” Ryan, a Catholic Doctor from Co Cork, was Haig’s personal physician throughout the war and delivered his first child Dawyck Haig. Haig in turn was godfather to Dr. Ryan’s son who was named Douglas. Ryan also dispelled the idea that Haig was callous with the lives of his men on the Western Front, saying he was deeply traumatised by the loss of his men but was convinced that the only way to win the war was to wear down the enemy.

For his role in the Battle of the Somme, Douglas Haig was made a Field Marshal on January 1, 1917. The promotion was accompanied by a handwritten note from King George V which read: “I hope you will look upon this as a New Year’s gift from myself and the country”. Haig was also created an Earl in 1919.

Field Marshal Douglas Haig receiving Order of the Thistle from King George V  at Chateau Schoebebeque, Cassel, France.

No one else was in attendance for the presentation so William Orpen did this painting after visiting the Chateau in Sept/Oct 1917.  The Chateau is now a 4* hotel – Châtellerie de Schoebeque, 32 rue du Maréchal Foch, Cassel. Image Courtesy of the Haig family.

Haig married Dorothy Maud Vivian in 1905 (a Royal Family Lady-in-Waiting) and had four children. After the war they resided at Bemersyde House, Roxburghshire, Scotland which was presented to Haig by the British Government and remains in the family ever since. 

In his latter years, Haig devoted his time working for ex-servicemen. He established a charity, the Earl Haig Fund, working mainly for those who were disabled through the Poppy Day Appeal and the British Legion of which he was the founding President in 1921, a position he held till his death in 1928. He was also a director of the Royal Bank of Scotland from 1923 to 1928. Earl Haig’s wife Lady Haig founded a poppy factory in Edinburgh in 1926 which still operates today.

Douglas Haig was a keen polo player and golfer, he was captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, St. Andrews, Scotland (1920 – 1921). Another captain was Edward, Prince of Wales (1922), later King Edward VIII, also painted by William Orpen, it hangs in the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

 Edward, Prince of Wales – 1922 (Later King Edward VIII) by William Orpen (between 1922 and 1928).

When Haig died of a heart attack in 1928 (aged 66) a day of national mourning was declared in Britain. It was reported that a million people lined the streets of London to view the funeral procession including hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen to pay their respects to their hero. Following a service at Westminster Abbey, he was buried at Dryburgh Abbey, near his home at Bemersyde, (see link below to a British Pathé film of his funeral).

In honour of his dear friend, William Orpen made some modifications to his controversial painting ‘To the Unknown Soldier in France’ by removing the “offending” emaciated British soldiers and donating the painting to the Imperial War Museum, London.

To the Unknown British Soldier in France by William Orpen (1919) and modified (1928) IWM. 

Orpen had originally been commissioned to paint three peace Conference Pictures for the Imperial War Museum. Two of them, the one of the ‘Conference at Quai d’Orsay’, the other of the ‘Signature of the Treaty of Versailles’ were already in the museum. The third was to represent a room in the Palace of Versailles called ‘The Hall of Peace’, the room through you enter the long ‘Galerie des Glaces’, where the treaty was signed.  For the third painting he had spent nine months working on studies of about forty politicians, generals and admirals (‘Frocks’ as he called them). “In spite of all these eminent men, I kept thinking of the soldiers who remain in France for ever”.  He was so fed up with how busy the Frocks were, congratulating themselves for winning the war and forgetting about the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who lay buried in unmarked graves, he just couldn’t continue. He blotted them all out and replaced them with a coffin draped in the British flag, guarded by two dead comrades and cherubim and named it ‘To the Unknown British Soldier in France’.

The Imperial War Museum refused to accept it and Orpen lost his fee of £2000. However, after the painting was exhibited in London, Orpen received many letters from mothers who lost their sons and wives who lost their husbands and from soldiers who had served in France, congratulating him on the picture.

An article in the Evening Standard 1923 – William Orpen comments on his painting ‘Unknown Soldier’ 

A Peace Conference at the Quai d’Orsay by Sir William Orpen (1919). IWM


The Signing of the Peace Treaty, Versailles by Sir William Orpen (1919). IWM



A great soldier passes – link to a British Pathé film of Haig’s funeral –


Post by Dominic Lee who also posts on: –


Ruth and Boaz by William Orpen

 (the model is Grace Gifford).
From the Book of Ruth – Ruth marries Mahlon who dies after 10 years and Ruth decides to take care of her widowed mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi objects but Ruth insists –
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Ruth then meets Boaz, they get married, have a son and live happily ever after.

The painting is in The Mildura Art Centre, Australia.

Grace Gifford was a student of William Orpen at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (now NCAD). She later married Joseph Plunkett hours before he was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising.
Here are the words of the song written by Sean & Frank O’Meara: –

As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham Jail
I think about these past few weeks, oh will they say we’ve failed
From our schooldays they have told us we must yearn for liberty
Yet all I want in this dark place is to have you here with me.

Oh Grace just hold me in your arms ad let this moment linger
They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die
With all my love I place this wedding ring upon your finger
There won’t be time to share our love for we must say goodbye.

Now I know it’s hard for you my love to ever understand
The love I bear for these brave men, my love for this dear land
But when the Padhraic called me to his side down in the GPO
I had to leave my own sick bed, to him I had to go CHORUS

Now as dawn is breaking, my heart is breaking too,
On this May morn as I walk out my thoughts well be of you
And I’ll write some words upon the wall so everyone will know
I love so much that I could see his blood upon the rose. CHORUS

Grace – Sung here by The Wolftones: –

Post by Dominic Lee

 Sergeant Murphy – A Grand National Champion – odds 100-6 against.

Sergeant Murphy and Things by Sir William Orpen is depicted with the jockey who rode him to victory in the 1923 Grand National, Captain ‘Tuppy’ Bennet. The character on the left is the horse’s owner, Stephen ‘Laddie’ Sanford, and the man next to him is his trainer, George Blackwell. The man leaning against the oak tree is the artist Sir Alfred Munnings.

Sergeant Murphy and Things‘ by Sir William Orpen (1923)

Oil on Canvas : 29.5×40 ins (74.9×101.6cms). Signed : Lower Left ‘ORPEN’ (Red). Private Collection

Sergeant Murphy was a chestnut gelding by General Symons out of Rose Graft, bred in Ireland by G.L. Walker in 1910. By the time he died, the sixteen year old horse, was a veteran of an astonishing seven Grand Nationals, spanning the period 1918-1925. By the time of the 1922 Grand National, the steeplechaser had been acquired from Benson by Stephen ‘Laddie’ Sanford, a young American undergraduate at Cambridge, with the intention of using him in the Leicestershire Hunts. However, being too much for the new owner to handle, he was placed under the Newmarket trainer George Blackwell. In the 1922 Grand National, with C. Hawkins up, he finished fourth, despite falling at the Canal Turn. However, ridden by Captain G.N. ‘Tuppy’ Bennet, he won the Scottish Grand National, at Bogside near Ayr, in April the same year. Glory and success came in the 1923 Grand National, run at Aintree on 24 March, when Blackwell became one of a select band of trainers who could boast a Grand National and a Derby winner, having won the 1903 Derby with Rock Sand. With the starting price 100-6 against, wearing No. 10, the thirteen year old Sergeant Murphy, again ridden by the leading amateur jockey, Captain G.N. ‘Tuppy’ Bennet, carrying 11 st. 3 lbs., won by three lengths, in the fast time of 9 minutes 36 seconds. Only six of the original twenty eight starters finished. It was the first ever Grand National win for an American owner.

The price of £500 which Orpen got for the painting indicates that ‘Sergeant Murphy’ was not a commissioned work. Orpen’s studio book records payment of £1500 being received for Lord Dewar’s own portrait, the following year, 1924. It is likely Lord Dewar saw it in the Artist’s studio, when he was there to discuss his own portrait, and decided to buy it ‘off the easel’. Lord Dewar, as an owner and breeder, and also with an interest in painting, would undoubtedly have been interested in the work. He would also probably have been able to appreciate the playful innuendos (and Things) Orpen included within the work; more of which will be said later.

‘Lord Dewar’ by Sir William Orpen (1924)


Orpen and Munnings

Sir William Orpen had a friendly rivalry with Sir Alfred Munnings, who was widely considered the best sporting artist of the 20th century. While the two were stationed in France as Official War Artists during World War I, they found themselves both painting at the Canadian Cavalry Headquarters. Munnings, who was painting a portrait of Prince Antoine of Bourbon on horseback, ran out of sable brushes. He found Orpen and asked him three questions: if he had a car (which he did); if he had any sable brushes; and if so, would he mind lending Munnings some brushes? Orpen kindly handed Munnings all of his sable brushes. The next day Orpen asked Munnings for the brushes back. Munnings quickly reminded him of the first question about the car and told Orpen he could damn well drive to Paris and get some more (Orpen, An Onlooker in France, p. 66) The rivalry between the two great artists perhaps reached its conclusion in this painting — quite impressively Orpen’s first attempt at a horse portrait. It is often said that this work was an endeavour to prove that Orpen could paint a horse portrait that would rival those of Munnings. Orpen, after all was one of the most fashionable portrait painters, a prodigy from Dublin” who had taken London society by storm. Munnings was equally as fashionable but had the advantage of a reputation as a painter of horses and men. Sergeant Murphy was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1924 and, unsurprisingly, was compared with Munnings’ works in the same show. Munnings remembers reading a review of the show “about Orpen’s picture of Sergeant Murphy saying that the Irishman’s picture was better than mine of the grey horse, that my horse’s head was too small (Munnings, The Second Burst, p. 153). Many elements within Orpen’s painting of Sergeant Murphy are, in fact, borrowed motifs from Munnings’ oeuvre. The oak tree is a notable example as several of Munnings patrons went so far as to request oak trees in their commissioned paintings. Chris Pearson, a scholar of Orpen, even suggests that the man leaning against the oak tree in Sergeant Murphy & Things is Munnings himself — a tongue-in-cheek nod to Munnings, reputation as the top horse painter of the day. Munnings was commissioned to paint Sergeant Murphy after he won the Grand National.


Orpen, in his studio book referred to the work as ‘Sergeant Murphy’, for its first showing at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1924, he gave it the very curiously cryptic but very deliberate title ‘Sergeant Murphy and Things’. By the addition of ‘and Things’ in the title, Orpen was saying that indeed there is more to this picture and that there are other aspects to the work that are not so readily obvious. Orpen probably did not want to make some of these things too obvious to the vast majority of the general public, as they may partly refer to an ‘in joke’, primarily for consumption within his own circle of acquaintances. For example, Orpen includes a favourite Munnings device, an oak tree. In Orpen’s work, the tree on the right with presumably Munnings leaning against it, is lifted from one of Munnings pictures of the 1919 Grand National winner, Poethlyn, entitled ‘Major Hugh and Mrs Peel’s Poethlyn‘.

‘Major Hugh and Mrs Peel’s Poethlyn‘ by Sir Alfred Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S.  (1919).


Sergeant Murphy also appeared on Player’s Cigarettes cards.




The author acknowledge the significant contributions to this body of information.  Not all could be cited because of reference limitations.  Source information supplied on request.

Dominic Lee


William Orpen writes on headed notepaper from The Dublin Metropolitan School of Art: –

 “Old Buck – don’t talk about anything, Anna Pavlova is here and she is full of business (and Kümmel)*. I did get the cheque, ease the mind – and I’ll hand over the picture when I get back. Thanks for the letter. York was not to sit till the 20th Feb. some mistake somewhere.  ANNA IS DARK”.

Yours, William O

*Kümmel is a liqueur flavored with caraway seed, cumin, and fennel and yes Pavlova the Dessert was named after Anna.

This letter is a little confusing – I don’t know who ‘Old Buck’ is and I’m not aware that Orpen ever painted anyone by the name of ‘York’ so I’m guessing he may be referring to Dr. Tempest Anderson (see below) from the city of York whom he painted in 1912, the same year he wrote this letter. Perhaps he was being discreet with his client’s name!

The letter was written while Orpen met Pavlova during her visit to Dublin in Jan 1912. He was visiting his sick mother and Pavlova was performing in Dublin. They got on famously in spite of the fact that she couldn’t speak English. Dining regularly at Jammet’s restaurant.

Orpen made a bit of a scene when he heard W. B. Yeats criticise Pavlova’s performance, an outburst he subsequently regretted.


Anna Pavlova – On the Beach by Sir William Orpen (c. 1931) Mildura Art Centre, Australia.

Anna Pavlova was born 12th Feb 1881 in St. Petersburg, Russia. A famous ballerina who toured Europe, America, South America, China, New Zealand and Australia.  The Dying Swan was her signature role (see video link below). She died in The Hague at the age of 50 on 23rd Jan 1931 having caught pleurisy while stranded for 12 hours on a freezing platform after her train was involved in a crash. She refused to have an operation to save her as this would mean she could never dance again – “If I can’t dance then I’d rather be dead”.

Anna Pavlova by Sir William Orpen (1920 unfinished). Mildura Art Centre. Australia.

Her ashes are interred at Golders Green Cemetery, London along many other famous names such as Enid Blyton, Marc Bolan, Sigmund Freud, Keith Moon, Peter Sellers and Bram Stoker. There have been a few failed attempts to bring her ashes back to Russia.


Another illustrated letter to his wife Grace – William Orpen writes: – 


My Dearest Wife,

Yes your letter was right – I asked Stier* to lunch today – and he brought Anna as a surprise packet for me – the excitement in Jammet’s was intense – my conversation did not get further than oui oui non.

However, the honour and glory were mine – I think the Jo Hones are back in London long ago it is quite fixed about his taking the house –

What do you mean by writing that you have no key? – have you lost one again – Mother is I am glad to say much better she was quite bad yesterday morning – Miss Morrisey is I fear quite hopeless in the early morning light – I’ll give up in a few days unless I strike some lighting or view that is better than what I have seen so far. Much love to you all.

Your loving husband – Billon

*Serbian born Theodore Stier (1873-1927) was Anna Pavlova’s Musical Director for sixteen years (1910-1926), during which he travelled 800,000 miles, conducted 3650 performances in which Pavlova took part, and presided over 2000 rehearsals. He was a friend of Orpen’s, the latter happened to be in Dublin when Pavlova was visiting in January 1912. As Victor Dandré, Pavlova’s husband and manager, was away, it fell upon Stier to take the prima ballerina to lunch each day. Consequently Orpen’s invitation to Stier to lunch provided Stier, with the collusion of Pavlova, the opportunity to play a practical joke on Orpen. Pavlova joined them for lunch and it was some time later that she removed the veil from her face, Orpen looked at her for a few moments and then burst out laughing, as did Pavlova and Stier.

 How and when the two men met and became friends is not clear. Stier came to the United Kingdom in about 1891, and was based in Manchester and Glasgow for a short while before settling in London.


Blue Plaque – “Anna Pavlova lived here 1912-1931” – 6 Ivy House, North End Rd, London.

Statue –  on top of Victoria Palace Theatre London.

Sir John Lavery (1856 – 1941) did several paintings of Anna Pavlova including this one: –

Anna Pavlova – La Mort du Cygne (The Dying Swan) by Sir John Lavery (1911). Glasgow Museum.

Link to an old film of Anna Pavlova performing the Dying Swan.


Dr. Tempest Anderson (1846-1913) was an ophthalmic surgeon (eye disease) from the City of York, UK.

Dr Tempest Anderson by William Orpen (1912)

This painting hangs in Tempest Anderson Hall Yorkshire Museum which also holds some 5000 of Anderson’s mountaineering and volcano photographs and other artefacts from his worldwide travels as an amateur explorer and photographer. He invented a panoramic camera with revolving lens (later produced commercially by Kodak) and he was the first person in the city to have a telephone.

He died aged 67 on a ship on the Red Sea and is buried in Suez, Egypt. 

Some interesting websites worth a visit: –

Mount Vesuvius in eruption by Dr. Tempest Anderson.

Post by Dominic Lee, Dublin.

William Orpen writes to his lover Evelyn St. George and sketches himself painting in the snow.

“All the country people here know several words of English now – sometimes they are very funny – one morning in Cassel, freezing cold and snowing, I was going to see the doctor and I passed a very pretty girl who hailed me with “Bloody cold this morning Major isn’t it?” You would have knocked me down. I stopped to speak to her but that was the only English she had”.


From a collection of letters donated to the National Gallery Ireland by Vivian Graves – the daughter of Evelyn St George and William Orpen.

Prior to donating the collection, many of the letters had been edited with a scissors – as is the case with this letter.


Post by Dominic Lee.



Jean-Emile Laboureur (born Nantes 1877, died Pénestin 1943) painter, engraver and illustrator. At the age of 18 he studied at the Académie Julian. His mentor, industrialist and art collector Lotz-Brissoneau, introduced him to printmaker Auguste Lepère, who taught him wood engraving. He travelled extensively in Europe the US and Canada. He met and was inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec.

William Orpen writes in An Onlooker in France (1924 edition, pages 26 & 27): –

“Shortly afterwards I went to live in St. Pol, a dirty little town, but full of character. The hotel was filthy and the food impossible. We ate tinned tongue and bully-beef for the most part. Here I met Laboureur, a Frenchman, who was acting as interpreter – a very good artist. I think his etchings are as good as any line of work the war has produced. A most amusing man. We had many happy dinners together at a little restaurant, where the old lady used to give us her bedroom as a private sitting-room, dining-room. It was a bit stuffy, but the food was eatable”.

Judging from the following two images, Orpen was clearly influenced by Laboureur.

Jean Emile Laboureur ‘Return from the Trenches’ (1916).


Goodbye-ee by William Orpen

Named after the 1917 hit song Good-Bye-ee by R.P. Weston & Bert Lee.


A link to the song on YouTube: –

(St. Pol also knows as Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise)


Posted by Dominic Lee.


The Battle of the Somme took place in June 1916, William Orpen visited the site several months later – April 1917. While this sketch by Orpen titled “No Man’s Land” is a perfect accompaniment to his poem – A Memory of the Somme, the second image by Orpen, while not at the Somme perhaps gives one a better vision of what he witnessed.

No Man’s Land by William Orpen

  Thiepval by William Orpen (IWM).



by William Orpen (Spring 1917)

A fair spring morning—not a living soul is near,

Far, far away, there is the faint grumble of the guns;

The battle has passed long since—

All is Peace.

At times there is the faint drone of aeroplanes as

They pass overhead, amber specks, high up in the blue;

Occasionally there is the movement of a rat in the

Old battered trench on which I sit, still in the

Confusion in which it was hurriedly left.

The sun is baking hot.

Strange odours come from the door of a dug-out

With its endless steps running down into blackness.

The land is white—dazzling.

The distance is all shimmering in heat.

A few little spring flowers have forced their way

Through the chalk.

He lies a few yards in front of the trench.

We are quite alone.

He makes me feel very awed, very small, very ashamed.

he has been there a long, long time—

Hundreds of eyes have seen him,

Hundreds of bodies have felt faint and sick

Because of him.

Then this place was Hell,

But now all is Peace.

And the sun has made him Holy and Pure—

He and his garments are bleached white and clean.

A daffodil is by his head, and his curly, gold

Hair is moving in the slight breeze.

He, the man who died in “No Man’s Land,” doing

Some great act of bravery for his comrades and Country—

Here he lies, Pure and Holy, his face upward turned;

No earth between him and his Maker.

I have no right to be so near.

This letter forms part of the current exhibition in The National Gallery Ireland –

Aftermath – The War Landscapes of William Orpen


The 90th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme was commemorated on an Irish postage stamp (2006) which included a sketch by William Orpen entitled South Dublin Horse: A Dubliner resting on his way to Arras Front (on the 1st issue envelope). The stamp is based on a painting entitled The Battle of the Somme (36th Ulster Div.) by J.P. Beadle.




Post by Dominic Lee.

Irish Scholars Silver Merit Medals Awarded to Richard & Arthur Orpen – Ireland 1801 & 1842

Text from recently sold medals on Ebay –

3 – (probably silver) engraved medals dating from 1801 and 1842.
One is awarded to Master A.B. Orpen by Doctor Orpen “For Good Conduct and Diligence”- 21st Dec. 1842.

The other two are awarded to Richard and Arthur Orpen, both dated Nov 2nd 1801 and both engraved for “Catechism Premium”.
I haven’t had these tested but I’d be very surprised if they weren’t silver.
The two larger ones are about 62mm x 40mm and weigh approx. 12grms each .
The smaller one is 33mm across and weighs about 15grms.
I think the Dr Orpen is
Dr. Charles Edward Herbert Orpen (31 October 1791 – April 1856) was an Irish physician, writer and clergyman who founded the Claremont Institution for the Deaf and Dumb at Glasnevin, Dublin.”


‘The Artist’s Wife and Daughter’ (Grace & Mary) on the Cliffs at Howth

Also known as ‘Sunny Weather’

Pencil and watercolour on off-white paper, laid down.

Signed and dated William Orpen 1910 in pencil at the lower right.

341 x 503 mm. (13 3/8 x 19 3/4 in.)

The watercolour will be exhibited at The Frieze Masters fair in Regent’s Park, London
and be included in Stephen Ongpin Fine Art upcoming catalogue and exhibition, Master Drawings, in January 2018.


Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 24 June 1927, lot 70 (as ‘Sunny Weather’)

Private collection

Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 15 May 2003, lot 57
Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd., London
Private collection, London.


London, Imperial War Museum and Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, William Orpen:
Politics, Sex & Death, 2005, no.90.

Throughout his career, William Orpen was greatly admired as one of the finest
draughtsmen of his day. As the critic of The Art News noted on the occasion of a
publication of a portfolio of reproductions of Orpen’s drawings in 1915, ‘These drawings
are remarkable not only for their delicacy of handling, but for the loving care with which
the pencil has revelled in beauty of form. Mr. William Orpen is thoroughly modern, yet
he continues a tradition which has been handed down from the great draughtsmen of the
past. His work does not suffer when placed by the side of the work of the Old Masters, a
supreme but dangerous test’2 Another critic, writing at the same time in The Ladies’
Field, noted that ‘ Mr. Orpen may be described as a tender draughtsman, tender in his
care of and love for his materials. His hand is so marvellously delicate. His pencil hovers
over the paper with the grace of a butterfly. .He does not strive for the beauty of feature,
as the French draughtsmen of the eighteenth century tried to capture those qualities. At
times he is almost ugly and brutal; but he never loses the beauty of form’3

This splendid large sheet, drawn in a fine pencil with light touches of watercolour,
depicts the artist’s wife Grace and daughter Mary on the clifftop at Howth Head in Co.
Dublin, where the family were on their summer holidays. Orpen and Grace first visited
Howth in 1907, and rented a house called ‘The Cliffs’ there for a number of summers
afterward. The house enjoyed a spectacular location, overlooking Dublin Bay with the
city in the distance; as Orpen was to write several years later, ‘The view looking towards
the mainland in the evening, from the top of the Hill of Howth, is wonderful and ever-
changing’4 It was during these August vacations that Orpen was at his happiest, enjoying
the company of his young family and freed, at least temporarily, from the pressure of his
many formal portrait commissions. As his friend and biographer P. G. Konody noted,

‘These pictures of life by the sea and among the Irish hills…of open-air sketching and
children playing, breathe the spirit of physical well-being and freedom from mental
worries. They are filled with sunlight – the mild sunlight of a damp climate – and
caressed by the gentle breezes of heaven.’5

Orpen produced several paintings, watercolours and drawings of his family while at
Howth, mainly between 1909 and about 1913. As a recent scholar has noted, during this
period the artist ‘ managed, on top of everything else, to produce a magnificent series of
works, conceived and drawn out of doors, mainly at Howth, and taking as their subject
matter the everyday human material that surrounded him.’6 His favourite subjects were
his wife and his two daughters; Mary, known as Bunnie, born in 1902, and her sister
Christine, known as Kit, who was born in 1906. As Kit recalled in later years, ‘He paid
half a crown an hour a sitting for those portraits – a fortune in those days…Only an hour
at a time and then a dash along the cliffs for a bathe – golden days.’

The present sheet may be compared stylistically with a number of drawings made at
Howth in 1910 and 1913, some of which were published as a portfolio of ten
photogravure reproductions by the Chenil Gallery in London in c.1915. ’7

  1. After 1910, Orpen seems to have begun signing his name as ‘ORPEN’ rather than in full, as on the present sheet.
  2. London, Chenil Gallery, Drawings by William Orpen, A.R.A.,d. (1915?), p.6., pp.9-10.
  3. Sir William Orpen, Stories of Old Ireland & Myself, London, 1924, p.4.
  4. G. Konody and Sidney Dark, Sir William Orpen: Artist & Man, London, p.187.
  5. Bruce Arnold, Orpen: Mirror to an Age, London, 1981, p.268.
  6. Quoted in Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, William Orpen 1878-1931: A
    Centenary Exhibition, 1978, pp.48-49, under no.86.
  7. London, Chenil Gallery, cit.. An untitled, bound copy of the portfolio is the
    National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


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Watching an episode of Inspector Morse – ‘Last Seen Wearing’, I spotted a painting of Amelia Bacon by Sir William Orpen on the wall behind the desk of the School Headmaster David Acum played by Philip Bretherton. Set at Homewood School for Girls (filmed at Reading Blue Coat School, Sonning on Thames). The 1988 TV Series features John Thaw as Inspector Morse, Kevin Whately as Sergeant Lewis and a young-looking Elizabeth Hurley as schoolgirl Julia (aged 23 she was perhaps a tad too old for the part).

DVD set of the TV series Inspector Morse – Last Seen Wearing and The Setting of the Sun.

Painting of Amelia Bacon by William Orpen (1925) behind the headmaster’s deck.




        Amelia and Edwin Bacon by William Orpen.


William Orpen was commissioned to paint both Amelia Bacon, (nee Watmough) and her husband Edwin in 1925 to commemorate their Golden Wedding Anniversary.




In correspondence to the Bacon family, Orpen quotes £1000 – head & shoulders, £1500 – 1/2 or 3/4 length and £2000 – full length.  And double the price if he was to travel to Grimsby.

However, there was a misunderstanding and the Bacon’s thought that price was for both portraits.

Orpen replied his prices have been the same since 1919 and that the “S’s make a big difference” (S’s as in plural) but perhaps accepting some blame he eventually offered to do two three-quarter-length portraits for a total of £2000 which was £1000 cheaper than normal. He also mentioned that he didn’t approve of full-length portraits which may account for the fact that he didn’t do very many of those during his career.

Interestingly Orpen advised Mr. Bacon to wear what his friends were accustomed to seeing him in and that Mrs. Bacon should wear what he liked to see her wearing.

Amelia Watmough was born 22nd Nov 1856, her family owned the biscuit factory – Watmough & Son in Grimsby. She died 5th Dec 1945 (age 89).



  Amelia’s Birth and     Death Certificates.




Edwin Bacon was born 4th Feb 1852, in Essex, he left home due to some domestic problems and became a cabin boy on the Grimsby-to-Hamburg steamer. He later became a fisherman for Henry Smethurst.

Edwin worked in his fishing business right up to a week before he died – 13th June 1943 (age 91).



Edwin’s Birth and Death Certificate






Edwin and Amelia married on 13th May 1875 (Amelia was 18 and Edwin was 23). They had 10 children, 5 boys and 5 girls.

             Amelia & Edwin’s Marriage Certificate.

In 1890 – age 38, he had been unpaid for several months, so instead of returning his catch to Grimsby, he sold it in London and paid Smethurst the money ‘less his wages’. He then secured backing from Lindsey Bank and Cochrane & Sons shipbuilders to form the Lindsey Steam Company.

When WW1 broke out, most of his fishing boats were appropriated by the Admiralty and lost in the war. At the outset of WW2 Edwin Bacon paid for two Spitfires for the RAF and gave the Government an interest-free loan. He was offered a baronetcy for his generosity but declined to accept it, probably because he was ‘one of the lads’ and thought a baronetcy would lose him the respect he had from the working class. He did devote much of his life fighting for fishermen’s rights. He was old at this stage and may have been reluctant to have the title inherited by his oldest son upon his death which could have undone his attempts to instil that same sense of respect and values on his children.

Both Bacon paintings (oil on canvas, measuring 50”X 40”) were sold by Sotheby’s 9th March 1956 for 55 Guineas and again by Sotheby’s 16th May 2002 for £7000.


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Sotheby’s Irish Art sale – Auction in London 27th Sept 2017.
Sir William Orpen, R.W.S., N.E.A.C., R.A., R.H.A. 1878-1931.
Both were be on display at the RHA Dublin 14th, 15th & 16th Sept.

(1) Study for The Holy Well –  Nude Pattern

Pencil and Watercolour – 61 x 33cm., 24 x 13in. Est £20,000 – £30,000 – Sold for £58,000

Following text by Professor Kenneth McConkey –
When in the spring of 1916 Orpen delivered Nude Pattern: The Holy Well to the New English Art Club, it was the most ambitious of three canvases which have become known as the ‘Irish Trilogy’. Tackling the subject of peasant piety, it was also an envoi to the Celtic Revival Ireland of Orpen’s youth. Executed in ‘marble medium’, and designed as an allegory in which Aran Island fisher-folk ritually bathe in the sacred waters of a holy well, it would echo the great solemn fresco cycles of revered Renaissance masters. As a student Orpen would have studied the iconic Piero della Francescas in the National Gallery, London, and marvelled at the daring naturalism of the man removing his shirt in The Baptism of Christ.
When shown, the painting was immediately purchased by Orpen’s lover, Mrs Evelyn St George, to hang at her London residence, Cam House, Campden Hill, W.8. P.G. Konody tells us that this tall, commanding client acquired seventeen ‘finished’ or ‘stand-alone’ studies of the principal figures in the picture, not all of which have come to light in recent years (Sir William Orpen, Artist and Man, 1932, p.169). All, as here, are touched with watercolour. It is unclear if they were produced prior to the painting, or after its completion, but they undoubtedly demonstrate Orpen’s ability as a master draughtsman to create interesting figure groups within a complex composition. Around this figure, others appear in attitudes of adulation – some kneeling in prayer, some bathing, others hailing the shrine and its Dominican keeper. This same model is likely to have posed for other figures in the composition, as did her male companion, the painter, Séan Keating.
In the present instance she draws in her abdomen to remove her clothing in the cool sunlight. She looks down as she does so. Presently she will be naked before her maker. When, after Orpen’s death, Konody had access to his sketchbooks, he marvelled at the artist’s facility with ‘the intricacies of the human structure, the interplay of bony and fleshy forms, the suggestion of actual and of potential movement, the whole articulation of the human mechanism’ (The Studio, December 1932, p. 310). This, as much as the drapery that falls to her feet, characterises Orpen’s Study for ‘Nude Pattern: The Holy Well’.


(2) Mr and Mrs Jack Courtauld and their daughter Jeanne on a settee.

Pencil and Watercolour  53 by 67cm., 21 by 26½in – Est £20,000 — £30,000. Sold for £49,000

Acting on behalf of the Artist’s estate upon Orpen’s death, M. Knoedler & Co. wrote a letter concerning the present work to Mr Jack Courtauld on 3 October 1932: 

‘We have at our galleries here all the paintings and drawings which were in Sir William’s studio at the time of his death.

Many or these are for sale, including a drawing in pencil and colour of yourself and Mrs. Courtauld, on a settee, with your small child, and we thought perhaps you might be interested to see, and possibly acquire, this picture. If you care to look at it we shall be pleased to show it to you any time, together with the other Orpen pictures we have here.’

Although there is no record of the sale taking place, it did indeed end up in the family where it has since remained. Major John (Jack) Sewell Courtauld (1880-1942) was the son of Sydney Courtauld (1840-1899) and brother of Samuel Courtauld, founder of the Courtauld Institute of Art, and Stephen Courtauld, who lived and commissioned the striking modernist interiors of Eltham Palace. Jack married Henrietta Barbara Holland in 1906. They are depicted here with their daughter Jeanne, who was born in 1909 and therefore dates the present work to circa 1913-14, just prior to the First World War. Jack saw active service and was awarded the Military Cross (as was his brother Stephen). He owned a company of architects, but at the 1924 general election he was elected as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Chichester, where he served as MP until his death in 1942, aged 62.

It is likely that the current work, with its tell-tale furniture and fittings, was executed at Oriel, Orpen’s studio in South Bolton Gardens. Of specific note is the round convex mirror, a characteristic of so many of his interiors, along with the settee and zebra-striped cushions, which sometimes can also be seen in works of the period from about 1910 to about 1914, such as Alfred Rich and Model (Tate Gallery) and The Poet (private collection). What is more, Orpen, who indulged in many famous self-portraits, gives us a tantalizing glimpse of himself as his easel, reflected in the mirror.


Sotheby’s catalogue: –

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Jewish girl defends the Protestant’s ‘Lord’s day of rest’!

A Solicitor’s Clerk declares war on Sunday Cinemas and is branded a “Common Informer” (a legal term).

The actions in which Miss Millie Orpen is claiming penalties is under the Lord’s Day Observance Act, 1781.

Photo: – Miss Milly Orpen, The Common Informer from Hackney: who is claiming vast sums under the Lord’s Day Observance Act.

In 1930 Millie Orpen sues many West End Kinema’s and newspapers containing their advertisements. Writs have been served on the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, which controls the Tivoli, Carlton, Plaza, Empire, and the Rialto. New Gallery, Marble Arch Pavilion, Capitol, Astoria, New Victoria, and on Associated British Kinema’s, which controls the Regal and the Alhambra. The amount sought was £195,000 which is about €13.3 million today.

(The word ‘Kinema’ from the Greek word for ‘Movement’ was used then instead of Cinema).

Millie Lily Offenheim was born 5th Dec. 1909 in London. On 8th Dec. 1930, just two days before the court action she changed her name by Deed Poll to Millie Orpen. However, in 1933, she married Alex Rosenfeld using her original name ‘Offenheim’ (which implies that she changed her name back again) and thus became Millie Rosenfeld. Millie was the granddaughter of Russian Jews from Petrokoff – Mr. Leiza Offeinheim who married Miss Leiba Offeinheim, it must have been easier to call them Dedushka and Babushka!


Photo: –  Miss Millie Orpen, who as a common informer is suing the Haymarket Capitol Limited, in London, England, for damages in opening their premises under the Sunday Observance Act which prohibits public entertainment in the Sabbath, made a hurried dash to her home, attempting to avoid pressmen and photographers, on July 15th., in London. Miss Orpen is shown above (nearest the camera) with her mother, as they arrived at their home.                                     

In the first of the trials Sir Patrick Hastings for the defence who thought he could wrap it up as there was “no such person” said he would call one witness – Miss Millie Orpen.

A smart young woman, wearing a small black velvet hat and black dress, who answered to the name of Miss Millie Orpen, then entered the witness box.

Sir Patrick asked her: “You were until December 8th last Miss Millie Oppenheim”?

“Yes” was the reply.

“Have you changed your name”? — “Yes”.  “How”? — “By deed poll”.

“Did Messrs. Jacques, Asquith and Jacques witness it”? — “I think the witness was Mr. Jacques Cohen, the principal of the firm”.

Referring to the technical points which he pro­posed taking, Sir Patrick Hastings said that he was bound to raise them “because there are many actions of this sort in the atmosphere.”

“My reason for asking Miss Millie Orpen her name was that I was not aware that, two days before the issue of the writ she had changed her name by deed poll. I was going to make the point that there was no such person, but since she has given evidence I don’t think that point is open to me.”

Mr. Cohen, K.C. for the directors of the company, submitted that although the plaintiff might have proved that the Kinema was open on Sundays and that people paid for admission, she had not established—indeed there was not a wrap of evidence—that anybody was admitted.

Mr. Justice Rowlatt: “It would be a great reflection on the sanity of the persons paying the money to say that they did not go in”.

Mr. Cohen: “It may be that they were stricken with their consciences and did not enter the place”. (Laughter.)

Photo: –  Sir Sidney Arthur Taylor Rowlatt KC KCSI PC (1862 – 1945).

Millie Orpen won the first case but never collected her award of £5000 so it was most likely a test case to prove the stupidity of the law.


Messrs. Jacques, Asquith, and Jacques, solicitors, of Aldgate House, Aldgate, state that Miss Millie Orpen has renounced the penalties of £5,000. In a deed executed and delivered on Tuesday, Miss Orpen undertakes at no time in any way to enforce payment of the £5,000 or any part, and states that it has always been her intention utterly and completely to renounce and relinquish the penalties to the Haymarket Capitol, Ltd. The deed was handed in at the offices of Messrs. Lawrance, Messer and Co., who are acting for the Haymarket Capitol, Ltd., and bore the customary ten-shilling stamp. It was, according to Mr. Jacques, executed quite voluntarily by Miss Orpen, who is employed by Mr. Jacques’s firm.

In one case Mr. St. John Hutchinson, Counsel for the defendants, “Miss Orpen is a young person of Jewish faith. Surely, she cannot seriously be regarded as a champion of the Protestant Sunday”.

In another case against the Carlton Theatre Company on 13 October 1931, Mr. Justice Wright was informed that terms had been arranged and written on counsel’s briefs. The terms were not disclosed.

Photo: – The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News – Saturday 27th December 1930.

Stirred into action by Millie’s writ, The House of Commons then acted promptly – 18 December 1930.


On Tuesday Mr. Leslie Boyce (Unionist member for Gloucester) introduced in the House of Commons a Bill designed to prevent action by “common informers” with respect to alleged offences against the Lord’s Day Observance Act, 1781. The Bill provides that: —

“No proceedings for the recovery of penalties under the Act shall be commenced without the consent in writing of the Attorney-General; and

“No prosecutions or actions for the recovery of penalties under the Act begun or pending at the date of the passing of the Bill shall be heard or continued without the consent in writing of the Attorney-General.”

The Bill was read a first time.

Final closure was achieved on Monday 19th October 1931, when Mr. C. Doughty, K.C., acting on behalf of Miss Orpen, applied for costs in respect of another case, which had “just escaped trial because on October 7, last [1931] Parliament passed an Act which has made the action void. However, the Courts still have the power to award to the litigant entitled to them, and I ask for the costs on behalf of Miss Orpen.”

In judgement Mr. Justice Rowlatt said “I have to award costs to somebody. It is kind of Parliament to say I can think at all.” (Laughter.) He ordered that, the action having been automatically discharged, Miss Orpen should have her costs up to October 7 and including that day. She would have to pay the costs of the directors of the company whom she cited as defendants, and against whom she did not proceed.

In refusing leave to appeal, the judge remarked: “It is unnecessary. Let there be an end of it all. Parliament should have done it itself.”

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Rebecca Dulcibella Orpen (watercolourist and portrait painter) born in Cork about 1830 – died in Warwick in 1923.

She was the daughter of Abraham Edward Orpen and Martha Chatterton and a second cousin once removed of Sir William Orpen (1878 – 1931).

Here is a snippet of her life and a some of her paintings from Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire (see link below).

Rebecca Dulcibella Orpen (1830 – 1923). Self-Portrait in the Painting Room.

Edward Heneage Dering (1826 – 1892), sent a marriage proposal to Rebecca Orpen but the request was read by her guardian (also an Author) Lady Georginia Chatterton* (1806 – 1876). Lady Chatterton mistook the proposal to have been addressed to her and duly accepted. Edward Dering decided that one in the bag was better than two in the bush and married Lady Chatterton.

Edward Heneage Dering (1826 – 1892) in the Grounds of Baddesley Clinton by Rebecca Orpen.

Lady Chatterton (1806 – 1876) by Rebecca Orpen.

Rebecca Orpen later married Edward Ferrers of Baddesley Clinton Hall. Both couples lived together as they had a lot in common, like philosophy and wearing old fashioned clothes. The ‘Quatre dans un lit’ was condemned by the local Rector and was the scandal of the town.  When Lady Chatterton died in 1876 and Edward Ferrers died in 1884 – Edward Dering and Rebecca Orpen finally got married. He died in 1892 and Rebecca died in 1923.

Marmion Edward Ferrers (1813-1884).’The Squire’s Evening Walk by Rebecca Orpen.

 Quartet in the Great Hall, Baddesley Clinton by Rebecca Orpen.

N.B. Henrietta Georgiana Marcia Lascelles Chatterton (nee Iremonger) widow of an Irish Baronet – Sir William Abraham Chatterton, 2nd Baronet of Castle Mahon, Cork.

Baddesley Clinton Museum

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Painting of Sir Henry Wilson by Sir William Orpen (1919).

The 22 June 1922 marks the anniversary of one of the most controversial episodes of the Troubles in Ireland with the assassination of the staunchly Unionist Sir Henry Wilson outside his home in Belgravia. Born in County Longford, Wilson was a friend of Churchill and the Northern Ireland Government’s adviser on security.His assassins were Reggie Dunne, deputy head centre of the London branch of the Irish republican Brotherhood (under Sam Maguire, of the celebrated cup) and one-legged Joe O’Sullivan. Both men were captured, convicted of murder and hanged six weeks later.
The historian Tim Pat Coogan described the assassination as ‘one of the most indefensible, inefficient and hopelessly heroic deeds of its kind’.
Precisely how involved Sam Maguire was remains unclear. Dunne and O’Sullivan may have been acting of their own accord. They may have been following an order given by Collins some time previously. In 1953, Joe Dolan, one of Collins’s former intelligence staff, stated that Collins had given this order to Maguire who he in turn passed it on to Dunne and O’Sullivan. Coogan also believes the order was given directly by Collins and delivered via Peg ni Braonain, a young Cumann naBan member.
However, Collins denied giving the order. His supporters generally agree that he gave the order but, amid the excitement of the Treaty and ensuing debates, he either forgot or failed to cancel it. His detractors hold that Collins simply lied to save his skin, disowning Dunne and O’Sullivan in the process.
Britain demanded vengeance for Sir Henry’s death. Dunne and O’Sullivan appear to have been acting in support of the anti-Treaty forces who, headed up by Rory O’Connor, had been occupying the Four Courts since mid-April. Six days after Sir Henry’s assassination, under pressure from London, Collins ordered the Free State Army to bomb the Four Courts, thus igniting the Civil War. Sam Maguire was not the only person to be horrified by the Civil War that erupted afterwards.
The memorandum pictured about Dunne and O’Sullivan is held at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Thanks to Turtle Bunbury for permission to reproduce his text from

N.B. Orpen knew the Wilson brothers as a student in Dublin, one was nicknamed ‘Drop-eye Wilson’ and the other (Henry) was known as ‘Rake-faced Wilson’.

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The Trial of Sir Roger Casement (1864 – 1916) by Sir John Lavery (1856-1941) part of the Government Art Collection held at the King’s Inns, Dublin. The painting is 10 feet x 7 feet.

Casement lost his appeal, was stripped of his Knighthood and hanged in Pentonville Prison, London on 3 August 1916 for his involvement in shipping arms from Germany to Ireland to be used in the Easter Rising. His ‘Black Diaries’ which implicated him as a homosexual were thought to be a propaganda exercise by the British Government but were later proven to be genuine.

Mr Justice Darling commissioned Lavery to do the painting but Lavery didn’t complete the job until 1931 so Darling never paid him and the painting stayed with Lavery till his death in 1941.

Alongside the painting is the gown of Sir Thomas Francis Molony, 1st Baronet, (1865–1949) the last Lord Chief Justice of Ireland which is similar to those worn by the judges at Roger Casement’s appeal trial.

And nearby, a 1925 painting of Malony by Sir William Orpen (1878 – 1931) wearing the same gown.

Sir John Lavery and Sir William Orpen were acquainted, they both served as Official War Artists in WW1 and Lavery attended the funeral of Orpen in 1931.

Text and Photographs by Dominic Lee

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Mark Gertler (1891 – 1939).

Still-Life with Self-Portrait, 1918 (Leeds Art Gallery).

The self-portrait in a mirror was possibly influenced by William Orpen’s ‘Mirror’ 1900 (Tate Gallery)

and Jan van Eyck’s ‘The Arnolfini Portrait’ 1434. (National Gallery, London).

Gertler attended the Slade Art school and William Orpen was a past pupil and he was acquainted with a fellow Jewish artist – William Rothenstein who was a close friend of William Orpen.

Gertler had a very interesting life – poverty-stricken, suffered with mental health issues, tuberculosis and a failed marriage. He had been in love with the painter Dora Carrington (1893 – 1932) whom he met at the Slade Art School, she committed suicide by shooting herself and Gertler gassed himself to death. He had attempted suicide previously by jumping under a train.

The 1995 film ‘Carrington’ starring Emma Thompson is based on Dora Carrington’s life.

According to Virginia Woolf, Gertler suffered from overweening egomania; he believed his “painting between the spaces” marked him out as distinctive from other artists.

One of the bronze sections in the William Orpen sculpture is taken from his painting ‘Self-portrait in Mirrors’.

The sculpture will be unveiled once a secure location can be found.

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An obscure article in a provincial English newspaper has enabled the identity of this sergeant in the Grenadier Guards to be identified as Sergeant Stanley Burton (1883-1962).

[Lancashire Evening Post – Monday 6th November 1939, p.4]. It reads as follows:-

Posed for famous Artist 

At Southport there is a policeman who has had the unusual experience of sitting for a famous artist—he once posed for the late Sir William Orpen.

He is Sergeant Stanley Burton, who retired some time ago, but has now been recalled to the Police War Reserve. During the last war he sat as a Grenadier Guardsman In service kit complete with tin hat and respirator for Sir William.

Well over six feet, he was a sergeant In the Grenadiers and was selected for the original of the painting in 1918, when he returned from France.

It was to have been used for poster purposes. When the war ended the portrait was exhibited in galleries in England and U S A. before going to the British War Museum.

After the war Sergeant Burton joined the Southport Police Force and became their drill instructor. Now he is on the job once more.

Further research shows that Stanley Burton was born in late 1883 (according to his service records) in Hulme, Manchester, England. He joined the Grenadier Guards in 1902 as a private, where he remained, either actively or in the reserves, until he was demobilised in 1919, having obtained the rank of sergeant in 1917. For most of his military service he was stationed in the United Kingdom, but served in France with the Expeditionary Force between 2nd March 1917 and 14th May 1918, during which time he was awarded the Military Medal on 31st July 1917. His return to England, in May 1918, coincided with the time Orpen was back in London from the Western Front, i.e. between March and July 1918. Service records show that Stanley was 6 feet 2¼ ins, fresh complexion, brown eyes, and dark brown hair, had “P” tattooed on left forearm and Dot tattooed on his right forearm. He also had a scar in the centre of his forehead and had slightly flat feet. Prior to signing up in 1902, he was a ship’s steward.

On 13th February 1909 he married Ellen Donnelly (Abt. 1883-1956), at St John the Evangelist R C Church, Lathom, Near Ormskirk, Lancashire, and they had five children, two sons and three daughters.

Oil on Canvas: 36 x 30 ins (Length 914 mm, Width 762 mm): Signed ‘ORPEN’ Upper Left

A half-length portrait of a British soldier set against a deep blue sky. He sits in full kit, his arms resting on his thighs, his rifle gripped firmly in his hands.

Collection, Imperial War Museum, London (Accession number: 3045) © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3045)

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The Society of Twelve.
Eighth Exhibition at the Fine Art Society’s Rooms, “The Centreway,” Collins Street, London, May 1915.
Established in 1904, The Society of Twelve had 18 members, 14 of which exhibited a total of 103 drawings or prints in what was to be the final exhibition of the group in 1915.

The catalogue includes one piece from each of the 14 artists (images attached), William Rothenstein, D. Y. Cameron, Sturge Moore, William Strang, Alphonse Legros, George Clausen, Muirhead Bone, Francis Dodd, Walter Sickert, James Havard Thomas (sculptor), Ernest A Cole, Edward Gordon Craig, Augustus John, T. Sturge Moore, William Orpen and Ian Strang.

Members not exhibiting: Henry Lamb, William Nicholson, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon.

Catalogue Published by P.& D. Colnalghi & Obach., London, 1915


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On a recent visit to William Orpen’s old home and studio in Chelsea, I spotted a remarkable stained-glass window in the bathroom (see image below). Intrigued by its origin, I wondered if it could have been ordered by William Orpen from his friends at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. As you can see, the window depicts four Wyverns which supported the arms of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (Vauxhall Motors had a model in its 50’s car range called the Wyvern).

Existing stained glass window, William Orpen

Image 1 – Existing stained glass window, Orpen’s home, Chelsea.

Orpen taught art to Beatrice Elvery and Margaret Crilly (who married Harry Clarke, the famous stained-glass artist). They have created many stained-glass windows.  However, a couple of experts – Nicola Gordon Bowe – NCAD and Terry Bloxham – V&A Museum concluded that this window was probably from a later period. Interestingly, with a little more research, I discovered that Orpen had indeed ordered two stained-glass windows for his home from another friend – Reginald Bell. Neither of these windows is known to have survived. It’s possible that they were destroyed in the Blitz when a German bomb exploded in the house next door, smashing many of Orpen’s windows and his crystal chandeliers.

I began to do some more research on Reginald Bell. I discovered that he was the only son of Mary and John Clement Bell (his sister was the sculptor Jeanne Bell). He was born in London and educated at Harrow School (for which he subsequently created a window for their School War Memorial) and later studied art at Cope’s and Nichols’ Art School in Kensington. In 1907, he joined the family firm – Clayton & Bell which was founded in 1855 by John Clayton and Alfred Bell, makers of stained glass and ecclesiastical furnishings. Reginald served in WW1 (Artists’ Rifles) and was made a partner in the firm upon his return in 1918. At one stage, the firm was employing 300 staff working day and night shifts from premises in Regent Street, London.

After Alfred Bell’s death, his son, John Clement Bell (1860 – 1944) ran the company, followed by his son Reginald Otto Bell (1884 – 1950) and lastly by Reginald’s son Michael Farrar-Bell (1911 – 1993). Upon his death, the firm closed.

The firm’s windows are known throughout the UK and worldwide, including Canada, US, New Zealand, Australia and there’s even one by Reginald Bell in the Anglican Church, Virginia, Co. Cavan, Ireland, depicting Christ as the Good Shepherd (see Image 2). Thank you to Rev. Craig McCauley for the image.

Anglican Church Window, Virginia, Co.Cavan

Image 2 – Anglican Church Window, Virginia, Co.Cavan.

Maurice Drake wrote: – “Reginald Bell’s two light Victory Window in Salisbury Cathedral is one of the finest painted in England during the past 400 years”.

Unusually, Reginald Bell designed the window for the Chapel in Somerville College in Oxford before an architect was even found to design the building.

Reginald was a popular member of the Arts Club, 40 Dover Street, Mayfair. It was here he became a friend of fellow member Sir William Orpen who commissioned him to make the two mellow stained-glass windows for his house in Chelsea.

Image (3) from 1929 shows a glimpse of one of Reginald Bell’s windows in Orpen’s Chapel room, including a pair of Russian church candlesticks, overlaid with silver, embossed and chased with rococo scrolls and shell ornamentation. A large ivory Spanish crucifix of the Seicento (art of the 17th century). There were also a few Fratelli Alinari photographs – two or three after Piero della Francesca. This room is now used as a bathroom.


William Orpen

Image 3 – Orpen’s Chapel Room, Bolton Gardens, Chelsea.

Image (4) is a clearer shot of the second window by Reginald Bell, it depicts a Bishop with his crosier (maybe even St. Patrick). This room is on the ground floor. Photo also includes an Italian X-shaped Armchair with gilt framework, red velvet seat and a back panel. The nude painting on the wall is by Francis Edwin Hodge (1883–1949), a friend of William Orpen and who also served as an Official War Artist in WW1.

Window, by Reginald Bell, William Orpen

Image 4 – Window, by Reginald Bell, Orpen’s home, Chelsea

Image (5) This is an unfinished portrait of William Orpen by Francis Edwin Hodge (1883-1949) Private Collection. Hodge studied under Orpen and painted this from a photograph of Orpen working on “The Black Cap” in 1928.


WO Black Cap & Hodge

Image 5 Portrait of William Orpen by Francis Edwin Hodge

The Chelsea house, named Oriel, after Orpen’s home in Stillorgan, Co. Dublin is currently owned by husband and wife – Ken Howard R.A. (painter) and Dora (photographer). It’s fitting that the former home of such a great artist should still be in artists’ hands.

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Sexes and Sevens, The Globe Theatre, London (Licence refused by Censor).

A three Act light comedy for one night only (Sunday, January 15th, 1928) by Arthur Wimperis (from the French of Alfred Savoir).

The Play was for the Benefit of The Green Room Rag Society Fund, including the auction of the original drawing by Sir William Orpen of the backs of Adam and Eve which is reproduced on the catalogue cover.

The auctioneer caused some laughter when he assured the audience that the man in the sketch was not Willy Clarkson (1861 – 1934). Clarkson was a well-known theatre costume designer and wigmaker. The male nude does look like Orpen’s one time friend and fellow artist Augustus John but this is unlikely as they had fallen out some years earlier.

The sketch sold for £60 after a false bid for £70. The total raised from the night was £910, announced by Fred Terry (1863 – 1933) actor and theatrical manager, famous for his beautiful voice and his role in ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’.
The Censor refused to license the play due to its ‘naughty bits’ and ‘suggestive lines’. It was only permitted on the basis that it was a one night only performance for charity. However, later the same year, Margaret Bannerman took ‘Sexes and Sevens’ to Australia, where it was staged in Sydney’s Criterion Theatre featuring some of the same actors including Margaret Bannerman herself, and Francis Lister. As Miss Bannerman let it be known that the piece had been refused a license by the British censor, there was some curiosity to know why, and doubtless that this had ensured a certain amount of box–office activity.

The play is about Mado, the daughter of a financial baron who inherits her father’s fortune and follows in his footsteps. She is way too busy to get married so she takes a ‘Master’ by the name of Albert, pays his expenses to Cannes, Biarritz, and Paris under the name of ‘Madame X’. But one of Alberts lovers turns up claiming to be his Madame X and when the truth is revealed Albert decides to teach Mado a lesson – ‘it is simply not cricket for a woman to do what men do’. He spends her money like it’s going out of fashion, leaving Mado to seek her mother’s advice on how to get rid of him. Her mother, however, wants Mado to marry Albert.

I won’t spoil the ending in case it makes an appearance on a stage near you.

Globe Foreword AGlobe Foreword B

Foreword by: – Arnold Bennett. Born in Staffordshire (1867 – 1931) A novelist who refused a knighthood in 1918.

Presented by: – Anthony Prinsep. Born in London (1888 – 1942). Anthony Prinsep was the son of the Royal Academician, Valentine Prinsep. He owned or managed several London theatres. Together with his wife, the actress, Marie Lohr (1890 – 1975) who starred in plays by Bernard Shaw and acted alongside Sir Gerald du Maurier (see below) as Lady Ware in ‘The Ware Case’ (1924). Anthony Prinsep led the management of London’s Globe Theatre from 1918 to 1928. This one night play marked the last night of Mr. Prinsep’s ten years’ management of the Globe Theatre.

This was not the first time that Mr Prinsep had asked William Orpen to produce a drawing for a charitable theatrical event. As a member of the General Committee of the King George’s Pension Fund for Actors and Actresses he asked Orpen to produce an illustration for the programme to accompany the Special Matinee Performance under the patronage and in the presence of Their Majesties the King and Queen for E Temple Thurston’s ‘The Wandering Jew’ in aid of King George’s Pension Fund for Actors and Actresses at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which took place on Monday May 23rd 1927.

Wandering Jew

Sketch by William Orpen for ‘The Wandering Jew’ by E Temple Thurston. Thurston was a poet, playwright and author, from Suffolk (1879 – 1933).

Sexes and Sevens was Produced by: – Lieutenant-Colonel Stanley Bell C.B.E., (1882 – 1952). General Manager at The Globe Theatre. The author of ‘Essentials of Stage-planning’ 1949. Acted in ‘A Message From Mars’ and produced ‘The Merchant of Venice’, ‘Diplomacy’ and ‘Our Betters’.

Main Actors: –

A Gentleman – Ernest Truex. Born in Kansas City, Missouri (1889 – 1973). Starred in the 1938 British movie ‘The Adventures of Marco Polo’ with Gary Cooper.

A Lady – Phyllis Monkman. Born in London (1892–1976). She was the only lover of George VI.

1st Waiter – Franklin Dyall. Born in Liverpool (1870 – 1950). Actor and Director, also known for ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’ (1933), ‘Easy Virtue’ (1928) and ‘Atlantic’ (1929).

Albert – Ronald Launcelot Squire. Born in Devon as Squirl (1886 – 1958). Played alongside David Niven in the 1956 movie ‘Around the World in 80 Days

Mastard – Leslie Lincoln Henson. Born in London (1891 – 1957). Here’s a 1912 recording of him singing ‘Meet me Round the Corner’.

2nd Waiter – Charles Vernon France. Born in Bradford (1868 – 1949). Played Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser who hates Christmas in the Charles Dickens classic 1935 movie ‘A Christmas Carol’.

3rd Waiter – Herbert Brough Falcon Marshall. Born in London (1890 – 1966). Lost a leg in WW1. Married 5 times. Played alongside Marlene Dietrich, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Vincent Price, Doris Day, Rex Harrison and Bette Davis.

Mado – Margaret Bannerman. Born in Canada (1896 – 1976). She was acclaimed for her performance as Lady George Graystone in ‘Our Betters’ by Somerset Maugham which ran for 548 performances at the Globe Theatre, London.

Maurel – Leon Quartermaine. Born in London. (1876 – 1967). Played alongside Laurence Olivier in the 1936 movie ‘As You Like It’ by William Shakespeare.

Edith – Cecily Byrne. Born in Nottingham (1889 – 1975). Married to the actor Sir Felix Edward Aylmer Jones, OBE (1889 – 1979).

Jacques – Allan Aynesworth. Born in Sandhurst, Berkshire (1864 – 1959). Played the lead part in the 1895 world premiere of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde.

Assistant Manager – Sir Gerald du Maurier. Born in London (1873 – 1934). Du Maurier cigarettes are named after him. He was President of the Actors’ Orphanage Fund (now the Actors’ Charitable Trust).

Cross – Francis Lister. Born in London (1899 – 1951). Married to actress Nora Swinburne (1902 – 2000) who also appeared in The Globe Theatre and was the leading lady the 1935 movie ‘The Three Musketeers’.

Valentine – Helen Haye. Born in India (1874 – 1957). Featured in the 1944 British movie ‘Pussy by Gaslight’ which the American censor changed to ‘Man of Evil’ and chopped out the naughty bits.

Julie – Maidie Hope. Born in London (1881 – 1937). Starred in ‘This’ll Make You Whistle’ (1936) and ‘Love Maggy’ (1921) a silent movie.

Latil – Alfred Drayton. Born in Brighton (1881 – 1949). Also starred in ‘Love Maggy’ with Maidie Hope (above) and the 1931 silent movie ‘The Happy Ending’ (which would also require a name change today!).

Scenery for Sexes and Sevens by Harkers.

The evening ended with a few Shanties sung by Heather Thatcher (1896 – 1987), David Burnaby (1881 – 1949), Laddie Cliff (1891 – 1937), Jack Hobbs (1893 – 1968), Stanley Holloway OBE (1890 – 1982), Evelyn Laye CBE (1900 – 1996) and Ivy Tresmand (1898 – 1980).

Supper was provided backstage by Anthony Prinsep.

*Arthur Wimperis – Born in London (1874 -1953). Also known for ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’. (1933), ‘Mrs. Miniver’ (1942) and ‘Random Harvest’ (1942).

*Alfred Savoir – Born in Poland (Russian Federation) as Alfred Poznanski (1883 – 1934). Awarded the French Legion of Honour in WW1. His plays included ‘Catherine the Great’ and ‘Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife’ which was made into a film in 1938 starring Gary Cooper.

The Globe catalogue forms part of a collection of William Orpen letters and material recently acquired by The National Gallery of Ireland.

Article by Dominic Lee who is fundraising on behalf of The Stillorgan Chamber of Commerce for this sculpture of Stillorgan born artist Sir William Orpen (1878 – 1931) which will be unveiled by Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones once a suitable site is located.
If you are interested in sponsoring the 11-foot-tall Bronze sculpture (see photo) created by Sculptor Rowan Gillespie please contact Dominic at or phone 00353 (0)872600755 for details.

All donations to:- The Stillorgan Chamber of Commerce, 19 Priory Office Park, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin A94 H7A4
Also, see and

11 ft tall Finished Sculpture

William Orpen – Bronze Sculpture (11 ft tall). Made by Sculptor Rowan Gillespie.

The eleven foot tall Bronze Sculpture of Sir William Orpen is now complete. It will be unveiled in Orpen’s home town of Stillorgan (as soon as a secure location can be found) by Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones who is a big fan and collector of Orpen’s work.

Sculptor Rowan Gillespie created the bust using one of Orpen’s famous self-portraits along with photographs of his Grandson – James Birkin and his Great Grandson – Danny Olivier.

The four smaller bronze sculptures are based on Orpen’s paintings which give an overview of the various aspects of his life’s work – (1) Poilu & Tommy (French & British soldiers) represent his time as an Official War Artist in World War 1.

(2) The self-portrait in mirrors represents his fondness for pictorial self-expression along with his fascination with mirrors.

(3) The nude of Yvonne Aupicq represents his fondness for the female form and the final piece will be a Still-Life.

(4) From a sketch by Orpen as a statue where he hopes that Dublin will see fit to honour him.

While there is an option for sponsors to have their name, company name or the name of a loved one engraved on a plaque beside the sculpture for €1000 you can make a donation of any denomination to:-

The Stillorgan Chamber of Commerce, Priory House, 19 Priory Office Park, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin, A94 H7A4

Or send an email to to request bank or paypal details.

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William Orpen War Paintings & Sketches Slideshow by Dominic Lee Priory Studios.

“Did you really believe this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sadness, the sorrow, the shame
The killing the dying it was all done in vain.
For Willie McBride, it all happened again
And again, and again, and again and again”

The Green Fields of France, a beautiful ballad by Eric Bogle sung here by Finbar Furey, helps one relate to the adverse effect that World War 1 had on Dublin born Official War Artist – Major Sir William Orpen R.A., R.H.A. who witnessed the slaughter of British, Allied and German soldiers who were often buried side by side with their arms and legs left sticking out of the soil.
He not only painted many of the top brass including Winston Churchill but also regular soldiers and war torn landscapes. Winston Churchill commented of his own portrait by Orpen “It is not the picture of a man. It is the picture of a man’s soul”. This portrait was painted shortly after the disastrous battle of Gallipoli which Churchill took the blame for.
After the Armistice, Orpen served as Official Artist at the Versailles Peace Conference but he felt that the politicians had betrayed those who had fought and died on the battlefield. He completed two Peace paintings – A Conference at the Quai d’Orsay and The Signing of the Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles. But having spending several months on the third painting he blotted out “The Frocks” as he called them (Politicians & Generals) who “Won the War” and replaced them with a coffin draped in the Union Jack guarded by the ghosts of two comrades dressed in blankets and rags.
The Imperial War Museum refused to pay Orpen for his final painting but accepted it several years later when Orpen agreed to paint out the two ghostly looking soldiers and the angels.
The original and the final paintings are part of this slideshow.

Thank you to Finbar Furey for his kind permission to use ‘The Green Fields of France’ as a backing track.

Sir William Orpen World War I Portraits. from Dominic Lee on Vimeo.

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  • December 1, 2013 - 7:12 pm

    Karen D'Alton - The slide show is great. I agree it’s like looking at their souls. I read recently that the song was banned by the BBC when it was released as they thought in was about the Irish Rising, You’d think the title might have given been a give away. Below is an article I read recently, nothing to do with Orpen, just something that caught my interest

  • December 3, 2013 - 5:58 pm

    Ann Egan - Well done on a thoughtful and compelling combination of art and music.ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2014 - 2:13 pm

    Marie Baker - Well done Dominic, I have not seen many of Orpen’s paintings before viewing this piece. The wonderfully executed images are displayed at appropriate parts of the lyrics. It is a very moving. Orpen was a very good artist,.ReplyCancel

The Auction of a painting by Stillorgan born Sir William Orpen of Captain Colin David Brodie at Whytes. Video by Dominic Lee, Priory Studios.

Painted by Orpen as a wedding present from the Orpen family to Daphne Harmsworth on the occasion of her marriage to Capt Colin Brodie in 1928.
The same painting was stolen by Martin Cahill AKA “The General” in 1988 from Alice Murnaghan, widow of the Supreme Court Judge, Mr Justice James Murnaghan who was an art collector. The painting was happily recovered in a Dublin garden shed and when Mrs Murnaghan died ten years later, the painting was then auctioned.
Here is a video of the most recent auction of this masterpiece by Whyte’s Auctioneers which took place in the RDS, Dublin on the 30th Sept 2013.

Thank you to Ian Whyte for their kind permission to allow Priory Studios to video the auction.

#MartinCahill #RDS #Whyte’s #Harmsworth #JusticeJamesMurnaghan #Orpen #PrioryStudios #IrishArt #ArtAuction #CaptainBrodie #DaphneHarmsworth

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There are a number of reasons why I chose the song “Roses of Picardy” to accompany this slide show of paintings by Sir William Orpen:
It was written in 1916 and Orpen would have been familiar with it. In fact it was probably the most popular song from that era and closely associated with WW1. It was also recorded by the Irish Tenor John Count McCormack in 1919 and his portrait by Orpen features in this slideshow along with some of Orpen’s paintings from his time in Picardy.
Here the song is sung by my friend, Soprano Niamh Murray whom I’ve had the pleasure to photograph on a number of occasions

Roses are shining in Picardy
In the hush of the silvery dew
Roses are flowering in Picardy
But there’s never a rose like you

And the roses will die with the summertime
And our roads may be far, far apart
But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy
‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart

But there’s never a rose like you
And the roses will die with the summertime
And our roads may be far, far apart
But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy
‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart


If you are interested in the life of Sir William Orpen, please follow his Facebook and Twitter page where you will find lots of interesting photographs and information and keep up to date on the plans to erect a bronze statue of Orpen in his birth place Stillorgan:

Sir William Orpen from Dominic Lee on Vimeo.

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