The Établissement public des musées d'Orsay et de l’Orangerie (EPMO) is pleased to announce the acquisition of the painting Breton Boy in Profileby the Irish painter Roderic O'Conor thanks to the generous support of the Société des Amis des Musées d'Orsay et de l'Orangerie (SAMO). The painting is presented to the public in the Françoise Cachin Gallery on the 5thfloor.
Born of a bourgeois family, O'Conor moved to Paris in 1887 to study in Carolus-Duran's studio and probably visited Pont-Aven for the first time that same year. In 1891, he went to live for a few months in the Breton village where he met the Swiss Cuno Amiet and the English painter Eric Forbes-Robertson. This stay in the footsteps of Paul Gauguin marked a strong stylistic evolution in the artist who then turned to a more Synthetist approach. O'Conor was still present in Pont-Aven during Gauguin's last Breton trip in 1894. It is from this stay that their friendship dates.
The meeting with Émile Bernard constitutes another fundamental event for understanding the evolution of O'Conor's painting. Bernard seems to have been a catalyst for the development of O’conor’s art, notably by introducing him to the work of Van Gogh. O’Conor stayed in Brittany for over ten years. He left it for good in 1904 and then gradually detached himself from Gauguin's influence to return to a more academic approach.
Dated 1893, Breton Boy in Profilebelongs to the most singular and arguably most interesting period in O’Conor’s career. The work itself stands out, among the large group of landscapes and portraits painted between 1891 and 1893. While the artist is here part of a movement that had already become a tradition in the artists' colonies in Brittany – that of representing Bretons in Breton costume – he is one of the first to focus on male subjects and to void any anecdotal representation of the costume.
In this portrait, as in four other works representing a child, the identity of the models remains unknown. These figures, shorn of any context, are meant to be seen as archetypes of the peasant world. It is at least in these terms that Alfred Jarry described them: “[...] each one at least elects a special beauty, that which is closest to himself [...] Thus: [...] O’Conor, in the models suggested at siesta time, by the local passersby in the triangular square, shows near disdain for the choice, out of his belief that the painter, outside of time, has no concern for place and space.”
Breton Boy in Profileis distinguished from other paintings of young peasants by its great formal radicality. The artist plays on the complementarity of colors and juxtaposes wide stripes without any fading or attenuation effect between the different shades.
The modeling is obtained solely by optical effect by breaking the orientation of the bands of color, and by making sharp breaks between the tones. In this respect, the contrast of light on the young boy's face is particularly edifying. Only a slight green outline helps to distinguish this face from the background of the painting, which is entirely built on these same methods. The visual strength of the whole gives this painting a great expressiveness and an assumed decorative character.
Roderic O’Conor is a very rare artist in public collections around the world. French museums mainly hold his graphic works, drawings or engravings (Rennes, Quimper, Pont-Aven and Orsay). This acquisition represents an exceptional opportunity to enrich the national collections.