William Orpen (1878-1931)


William Orpen

Recognised for his talent from a young age, Orpen studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and the Slade, London, where he met artists such as Augustus John and William Crampton Gore.

Orpen was involved in the New English Art Club and became a highly-skilled and very successful portrait and subject painter. He settled in London, but returned to Ireland regularly and taught at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where he revolutionised art education in Ireland. His academic style influenced a generation of Irish artists.

Orpen spent the summer with his family, renting a house at Howth, Co. Dublin, however, he developed an ardent love affair with his patron, the wealthy American heiress, Evelyn St George and wrote to her regularly. In 1907 he was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Vere Foster family and while staying at their home in Co. Louth, he wrote to Mrs St George about the commission, including an illustration of himself with ‘Biddy’, the Vere Foster’s eldest daughter.

In 1915, during World War I, Orpen was appointed official war artist. He was committed to the war effort and even loaned his Rolls Royce to the British Red Cross. Originally yellow, the car was painted white and the side panels marked with a red cross. After the war he documented the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.


A selection of items from the collection:

Letter from Sir William Orpen to William Crampton Gore, [c.1902]
Presented by Elizabeth Parry-Crooke, 2003

Letter from Sir William Orpen to William Crampton Gore, 8 April 1904
Presented by Elizabeth Parry-Crooke, 2003

Letter from William Orpen to Evelyn St George, [c.1907]
Presented by Lord Belmore, 2009

Photograph of Sir William Orpen and his driver, Joshua Barr, in his Rolls Royce, [c.1915] (see above) 
Presented by Harry Barr, 2006