William Conor (1881-1968)
Girl with Buckets, 1950s
Wax crayon on paper, 35 x 26cm
Signed, centre left: Conor
Presented, in memory of Marie McGuone, 2012
William Conor was born in Belfast and studied at the Belfast School of Art and Design in the late 1890s. He initially worked as a commercial artist, before devoting his life to painting and drawing. He was an official war artist during both world wars and recorded the damage caused by the bombings in Belfast in 1942. He exhibited at the RHA from 1918 to 1967 and was elected a member in 1946. One-man exhibitions were held at the Victor Waddington Galleries, Dublin in 1944 and 1948. In 1952 he was awarded an OBE and in 1957 elected President of the RUA. His work is well represented in public collections in Northern Ireland including the Linen Hall Library and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra. More than 50 of his crayon and watercolour drawings are held by the Ulster Museum. Conor was a prolific artist. His life’s work represents a remarkable social and economic history of the ordinary people of his native city.
This is a typical example of Conor’s images of the people of Northern Ireland. It is drawn using wax crayon, a difficult medium he made his own. Although his working technique is not documented, it is likely that he used photography. The faces of his figures, created using contrasting light and dark areas, remind one of old newspaper photographs. Here, a woman squints into the sun, which bleaches out detail, leaving just a faint impression of the farm buildings in the background. Conor may have created this drawing using an offset image as it is very similar (and in reverse) to a drawing entitled ‘The Water Carrier’ exhibited at the Oriel Gallery, Dublin in 1981.
The artist’s drawings of anonymous men, women and children at work and at play display a deep sympathy and understanding for the human condition. Like Harry Kernoff, the Dublin artist, Conor was deeply interested in recording his fellow citizens, as a result of which he is a ‘popular’ artist of merit, who drew and painted the people of his native city without a social or political agenda.