OIL PAINTING: The English Nude, 1900
This is one of a series of major paintings Orpen made in 1899-1900 which seem self- consciously to demonstrate his mastery over a range of artistic categories: subject genre in the complex Play Scene from "Hamlet", which won him the 1899 Slade composition prize; the virtuoso swagger portrait of his friend Augustus John; the "aesthetic" portrait arrangement with knowing Old Master references of The Mirror and The English Nude, in which his complete understanding of the potential of the naked form is clear. The picture was painted in Orpen's basement-cellar room at 21 Fitzroy Street, and possibly also worked on during a trip to Cany in France. The room was dank and dark, with an earth floor, and rats occasionally gnawed the edges of Orpen's canvases. Into this space was introduced a huge four-poster bed, whose top must have nearly touched the ceiling. The model for the picture was Emily Scobel. She had wanted to be an architect, but when her family ruled this out, she ran away from home and earned a living as a model at the Slade. Orpen and Emily became engaged around the time this painting was made, but she broke it off, according to her daughter because she found him too ambitious. She was clearly a woman of great charm and character. A contemporary photograph shows her looking back over her shoulder, hair down, and wearing a man's corduroy or canvas suit and hat. She later married Orpen's Slade contemporary Max West and had a large family.