This is the largest surviving picture by Roderic O’Conor (1860-1940) and his most ambitious canvas, completed during a sojourn at Rochefort- en-Terre, a hilltop village in the Morbihan region of Brittany. The artist’s previous base, the town of Post-even, was fast becoming overrun with tourists.
Rochefort, on the other hand, offered an unspoilt haven where he could replicate his friend Gauguin’s quest for the ‘primitive’, without needing to feel regret for declining the letters invitation to accompany him in 1895 to the South Seas. O’ Conor’s new works were characterised by a return to more Impressionist idiom, combining an earthy palette with gestural brushwork. Gone were the fiery colours and thick ribbons of paint that marked him out in the early 1890s as a daring post-Impressionist. The present picture, with its sombre tonality and creamy handling of paint, has more in common with the early works of Manet.
The impact of the figure is enhanced by placing her in profile against a nondescript background and instilling her with a sense of dignity and quiet purpose. The net result is a make a virtue of her humble origins. In effecting this transformation from the specific to the universal, O’Conor may have taken inspiration from Whistler’s famous portrait of his mother seated, in profile, facing left; he might have viewed it at the Luxembourg Museum, Paris, where it was exhibited doom 1891. It was purchased from Roland, Browse & Delbanco, London, by John Hunt.