c.1925 by William Orpen
The National Gallery of Ireland
Orpen is one of my favourite Irish painters and I discovered him whilst visiting a friend in Dublin. He was made an official painter during the First World War, having been previously known for predominantly portrait painting. This is one of his later works, and perfectly captures the visual and atmospheric glory of sunlight through a window. After painting the battlefields of war for so long, it is perhaps no wonder that Orpen turned to softer and more comforting subject matter, such as watching someone intimately at home. Casually this woman pulls on her stocking — if she knows she’s being watched she chooses not to care — yet despite this intimacy, she is bathed in illuminating sunlight from the open window. This light glorifies her action, making an act so secluded an exhibition. There is surely something exhilarating about dressing in front of an open window. Although the luxury of the golden curtains, picture and feathery cushions are crisply highlighted, this painting is remarkably softly focused compared to Orpen’s usual work, which is often tightened to the point of hyper-realism. However, one cannot paint light using such techniques and here sunlight, as much as any subject, is clearly what Orpen was bewitched by.