LOT: 161. 22nd March 2023 at 1pm GMT | LIVE AUCTION 21949 (link at the bottom).

Study for ‘The Western Wedding’.

SIR WILLIAM ORPEN, R.A., R.H.A. (1878-1931).

Signed ‘ORPEN’ (lower right).
Pencil, watercolour, gouache, and oil on board.
28 x 20 inches. (71.2 x 50.8 cm.).
Executed circa 1914.

Christie’s Estimate: GBP £30,000 – £50,000.

PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF LORD AND LADY COTTESLOE lifelong supporters of the arts, The Hon. John Fremantle (4th Lord Cottesloe) collected works of the 20th century by artists including Walter Sickert, William Orpen, Augustus John, Henry Moore, and John Piper. The latter two were lifelong personal friends. He also forged close friendships with several leading lights of the stage, including Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. In 1953 he became a trustee of Tate and the following year was appointed chairman of the Advisory Council and Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art. In that same year, his father died, meaning he inherited the title, of Lord Cottesloe. From 1960-65 he was chairman of the Arts Council, during which time he conceived, with Olivier, his great passion project: to build a National Theatre on London’s South Bank. As chairman of the National Theatre board, he steered the development for fourteen years, and finally, in 1976, it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II. One of its three theatres was named in his honour.

With Aitken Dott & Son, Edinburgh, where purchased by Major R.K. Blair, Edinburgh. With Colnaghi, London. The Hon. John Fremantle (Lord Cottesloe).
London, Palace of Arts, British Empire Exhibition, May – October 1925, number R9.

This drawing is a preliminary study for two of the characters in The Western Wedding, 1914, the second of Orpen’s three large allegorical paintings painted at this time, and which is lost, believed destroyed. The other two oils in this ‘Irish trilogy’ are The Holy Well (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) and Sowing New Seed (Mildura Arts Centre, Victoria, Australia).

The present study depicts two kneeling figures holding hands, who can be seen in the right foreground of the oil. The female figure was modelled by Connie Martin, a professional artist’s model who was living at 258 King’s Road, Chelsea, and who also posed for a kneeling figure in The Holy Well. Her pose is possibly inspired by the figure of Mary in Piero della Francesca’s The Nativitycirca 1483-84 (National Gallery, London). The male figure is likely to be the artist Seán Keating.

We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

Text from Christie’s catalogue.


A sketch and a photograph (not in this auction) of the finished work which was sadly destroyed in a warehouse fire.

Note Orpen’s Rolls Royce is included in the centre-right of the picture.

Post by Dominic Lee, Orpen Research Archives.