William Orpen (1878–1931):
Annete and Lubin (recto) and Portrait of a Lady, Bust Length (verso), circa 1904–5
Framed (ref: 550)
Signed and inscribed
Recto: pen, ink and watercolour; verso: charcoal, red and white chalk, 14 x 10 in. (35.5 x 25.5 cm.)
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Annete and Lubin (recto)
The two protagonists in this drawing are Augustus John and his wife Ida (née Nettleship). Orpen had known both since his Slade School days, where they were all students. It is his commentary on the unorthodox
domestic arrangements of Augustus John, who maintained a ménage à trois
involving Ida and his mistress, Dorelia (Dorothy McNeill), on and off between 1903 and 1907. (For images of Ida and Dorelia see cats. 104 and 105). Even within the bohemian atmosphere of the London Edwardian art set, such an arrangement still attracted disapproval.The more conventional Orpen and his wife Grace would have had sympathy and concern for Ida, viewing her bouts of mental anguish with growing alarm. Ida herself see-sawed between accepting the situation, embracing it with manic enthusiasm and alacrity, and being overpowered with claustrophobia and depression, triggered by the realisation that she was trapped by these same arrangements. Conscious of the effect that the arrangement was having on Ida, Orpen chose to illustrate her dilemma by equating it with one of Jean-François Marmontel’s Moral Tales (1761), Annette and Lubin, which examined the conflict between natural desire and urges (natural law), and the
conventions of society (man-made law). In this image Ida is clearly pregnant; tragically she died shortly after the birth of her fifth son, in March 1907.
Portrait of a Lady (verso; not illustrated) Although the subject has not been positively identified, the lady could be Mrs Augusta Everett. A distant relation of Orpen, Mrs Everett, like Orpen, attended the Slade, and he rented for a time a studio in the basement of her house at 21 Fitzroy
Street, London. Orpen painted her in 1901 as Mrs Everett on the Isle of
Patmos 1901 (Mildura Arts Centre, Australia), holding a scroll and with a finger pointing heavenward. As can be judged from the Isle of Patmos painting, Mrs Everett was not short of religious fervour, and it would be an irony if it were her portrait on the back, as she certainly would have had an opinion about the Johns’ ménage à trois.
The above text is an extract of an essay written by Christopher Pearson, the unabridged version of which can be read in the biography link.
We are grateful to the Orpen Research Project for their assistance in the preparation of this entry. A catalogue raisonné of the oil paintings of William Orpen is currently being prepared by Christopher Pearson of the
Orpen Research Project.
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