Typical of William Orpen’s sense of humour, he named this portrait of his friend and fellow artist Alfred Rich ‘The Sketcher’, knowing full well that the term ‘Sketcher’ was a thorn in Alfred’s side.

‘The Sketcher’ by William Orpen (1910).


Alfred Rich (1856 – 1921) and William Orpen (1878 – 1931) overlapped at the Slade Art School in London during the 1890’s – Rich was a mature student/tutor in his 30’s and Orpen barely out of his teens but the two seem to have become firm friends.

The “tongue-in-cheek” nature of Orpen’s portrait title isn’t particularly explicit unless you know how Rich felt about “sketches”. He writes on pages 44-47 of his book “Water Colour Painting” (1918) “We now also hear of the emotional and spontaneous drawings (water-colour) being styled ” sketches;” which term was intended to convey the meaning that it was a slight thing and of not much account. Now of all the terms in common use there is not one which conveys such a false impression as does this one. Doubtless it is intended to mean that the effort referred to is something less than a complete thing. Every genuine effort in Art is complete. It is the expression of an emotion, and being such is finished.”

A letter from Orpen to Rich suggesting what he should wear for his portrait: – “Dear Rich – do you ever wear a muffler – and have you any waistcoats such as I wear? A green and black one would look good – with coloured or stripped shirt sleeves – do you think the idea of drawing better than the dog? Forgive the face – Yours ever William O.”

Self portrait and letter of Orpen sitting on Rich’s knee: – “My old Dutch   – is it possible that I did not answer your immediate letter. If not – I beat myself – heavily on the back of the left hand. Did I not say I would be delighted to paint any friend of yours – am I not starving – and would a portrait not keep me and mine from starvation – However I suppose it’s too late now – tears – and I’ve had a bad summer’s work. Have done nothing except a portrait of my Father and Mother and its bad and not finished yet so you’ll have to take me on your knee and sooth me down when I get back      Yours ever William O.”


‘Alfred Rich and Model’ by William Orpen (1911).

The nude model is Flossie Burnett, the same model on couch and in the wall painting Nude Study 1906 also by William Orpen, Leeds Museums & Galleries. She was one of the models Orpen brought from London to the Dublin Metropolitan  School of Art (now N.C.A.D.) to pose nude as it was difficult to find an Irish girl for that task.


Alfred Rich (top left with cigar) appears in this painting by Orpen.

‘The Selecting Jury of the New English Art Club’ by William Orpen (1909). National Portrait Gallery.


Rich also features in this painting by Orpen. Rich is seated in the centre complete with cigar.Café Royal’ by William Orpen (1912). Musee d’Orsay, Paris.

William Orpen wrote the following words about Alfred Rich on pages 11-12 of the only biography of Rich which has yet been published (written by and published in 1922 as a “Walker’s Quarterly” by Walker’s Galleries in London). “Alfred Rich the artist was a great man, full of the joy of life, and kind and gentle. He was a superb figure of a man, large in every way, and the whole crowned by his silver locks, of which he was most naturally proud and which showed off the darkness of his shaggy eyebrows. He was very liberal and loved giving presents – many things I have now in my possession which will always remind me of the kindness of “Old Buck”, as he used to sign himself in his letters.

In one way he was very different from most other artists in that he collected the works of the artists of his own time, and paid very high prices considering he was never a wealthy man. His work is too well known to need any mention from me. He was one of the last of the great school of British water-colour painters. He knew all about his materials and would express his thoughts through them with a sureness of touch which must have meant years and years of intense study.”

Rich recommended and introduced various sitters to Orpen for portraits. These included Claude Bishop (below), whose portrait was sold at Christie’s in 2008 and for which the British Museum holds a study (which formed part of the A.W. Rich Bequest):

Claude Bishop by William Orpen (1911).


Rich was also painted by Henry Tonks (1862 – 1937), a teacher at the Slade.

Alfred Rich by Henry Tonks (1917) National Portrait Gallery.


Alfred Rich published a book in 1918 – ‘Water Colour Paintingwhich was part of the popular New Art Library and remained in print for nearly 50 years as a standard work on the subject.

Many of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Orpen images were donated by A.W. Rich – as was the N.P.G watercolour self-portrait of Orpen looking at his reflection in a convex mirror.

Self portrait in a convex mirror by William Orpen (1910).


‘The Old Bridge, Ludlow’ by Alfred William RICH, N.E.A.C Watercolour, (Circa 1912).

The above painting by Alfred Rich is currently for sale for £2,500 see details here: –





Post by Dominic Lee with the kind assistance of Alexander Rich (Alfred was his grandfather’s cousin).