Arthur Walter James (1904 – 1981) by Sir William Orpen (1913).

Arthur Walter James (age 9) by Sir William Orpen.


Pencil and Watercolour : 13.5″x15.57″ (34.25x35cm).

Inscribed “Arthur Walter James” bottom left and signed “William Orpen 1913”, bottom right.

Current Location: Sitter’s Family.

The setting for the Drawing is on the cliff tops overlooking Dublin Bay, towards Bray in the background. A boy is seated just right of centre of the picture, body facing bottom left, but head turned slightly so that the face is looking directly at the artist. He is seated so that his knees are pointing outwards to the sides, the right knee slightly raised, the ankle crossing in front of the left ankle, the left leg being flat on the ground. He has bare feet. His arms are extended forward so that his hands are resting on the middle of the shins of their respective legs. He is wearing what appears to be knitted wool clothing, the top half, long-sleeved, wing-collared, buttoning just at the top of the chest. The bottom half seems to be close fitting breeches, finishing above the knee.

Provenance: Recorded in Orpen’s Studio Book as “Drawing of Arthur James”, sold for £31-10-00;

The Sitter’s family.

Lady Serena James.

Sold Christie’s, South Kensington, Contents of St Nicholas, Richmond, North Yorkshire, 16/05/2001, Lot Number 339, for £18000 (Illustrated in Catalogue page 91).

Private Collection.

Witt Library: Laib glass negative No. 6434.

Although Orpen has put Arthur in the informal setting on the cliffs at Howth, this may well be a commissioned portrait, and the boy may never have actually visited Howth. Orpen also drew a pencil head study of Arthur, which dates to February 1913, and although not exactly the same pose, it may possibly have been a study for the watercolour.

Study of Arthur James by Sir William Orpen.

Arthur Walter James (1904-1981) had an impressive lineage, being descended from the Lord Northbournes on his father’s side and as a direct descendent of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, (great great grandson) through his mother, Evelyn Kathleen Wellesley. There also seems that there was some artistic talent on both sides of the family. His uncle, Walter John James, 3rd Baron Northbourne (1869-1932) was a trained artist who married Laura Gwenillian Rice, who herself exhibited at the RA. On his mother’s side his Aunt, Eileen Wellesley, also exhibited at the New Gallery, London, in 1907. Even his father, the Honourable Robert James (1873-1960) exhibited; and perhaps significantly, this was at the NEAC between 1913 and 1914, the time this drawing was made, and thus could prove to be the link to Orpen. The James’, however may have also visited Ireland or had some Irish connection for in the sale of contents of St Nicholas, Richmond, North Yorkshire, (The Honourable Robert’s address) there were also several works by Orpen’s brother Richard C. Orpen. Theo Snoddy in his Dictionary of Twentieth Century Artists informs us that five of the six paintings Richard exhibited at the 1914 RHA were of Richmond, Yorkshire, which suggests that he probably visited there in 1913 or early 1914.  He certainly visited there around 29 July 1914, and again between 1st and 27th April 1915, when he signed the house’s visitors’ book on both occasions. Although quite a prominent Dublin painter, his reputation was mainly Irish based. Another possibility could have been through Lord Northbourne who exhibited on three occasions at the RHA (Dates unknown).

According to Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage, Arthur Walter James, the only child of Robert James and Evelyn Wellesley, was born 6 January 1904. This means that he was nine years old when Orpen undertook the drawing. He married firstly in 1929, but was divorced in 1932. In that year he married his second wife Mary, and had two children by her a girl in 1933 and a boy in 1935. He was a Major, Reserve Officers, Grenadier Guards. He died in 1981 (age 77).


Post by Dominic Lee, Orpen Research Archives.