OIL PAINTING: Nude Study, 1906
Orpen's languid, smouldering nude was painted in Dublin, where he had returned to teach at the Metropolitan School of Art, leaving his young wife Grace in London. Richly coloured, but also restrained, the contrast between light and shade add to its sensuality, while also inviting comparison with the Old Masters Orpen revered. But Orpen's composition was highly original, and the expression of the model's face hints at a deeper, psychological state than vapid nineteenth- century paintings of reclining girls. Instead, this was an overt attempt to portray the sexual, in a way that would still have been deeply provocative in Edwardian England. There is a sizzling post-coital sexuality about the exhausted set of the nude's body, the tousled bedding confirming the suggestion of recent erotic activity. Orpen took great trouble over the picture, and sent Grace a series of letters describing his difficulties, writing in one, when it was nearly complete, that it was "the most trying job I've ever done, and I feel the result is not worth the 'tryingness'. I feel real beaten. Father came in to see it this morning and it would have done you good to have seen his face, but the dear man was too nice to say anything about it". Although characteristically self-deprecating, Orpen must really have known how original his painting was, and the result was more than worth the effort, not least for the impact it had when first shown at the New English Art Club exhibition.