Gallery secures Orpen portrait


A portrait of world-famous tenor John McCormack by one of Ireland’s most renowned artists was secured for the State today after the National Gallery snapped it up at auction.

The large 1923 painting by Sir William Orpen, which went on sale for the first time in more than 80 years, is expected to go on permanent display this summer in Dublin.

The National Gallery paid €404,600 or the piece, significantly less than the €680,000 (£600,000) it was expected to fetch.

Until now, the work was a cherished heirloom owned by the opera singer’s grandson, also Count John McCormack, having been passed down through generations within the family.

It will be hung in the national portrait collection of the National Gallery.

Bernard Williams, of Christie’s auctioneers, said the painting is one of Orpen’s best to go under the hammer in recent times.

“The portrait has drawn great admiration at our previews in Dublin and London and Christie’s is pleased to have facilitated this acquisition which enables the painting to remain in Ireland and be enjoyed by the public.”

The 127 x 102 cms painting was completed the same year McCormack finished his 12 years as an opera singer, to forge out a hugely successful career as an international recording artist.

The Athlone man became known the world over for his renditions of popular and sentimental songs.

Such was his fame and wealth that he owned apartments in New York and London, while leasing Moore Abbey at Monasterevin, Co Kildare.

A life-sized bronze statue of the singer stands in Iveagh Gardens, behind the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

Orpen was born in Dublin in 1878 and spent most of his working life in London. He was renowned for his portraits of society figures in the early 20th century, including Edward, Prince of Wales, and Winston Churchill.

He is also revered for his work as an official war artist depicting the horror of the first World War.

He was knighted in 1918 for his services as a war artist.

The most recent major retrospective show of his work was held in 2005 at the Imperial War Museum in London and at the National Gallery of Ireland.

This comprised some 70 oils and a "comprehensive presentation of his illustrated letters and sketches", according to the National Gallery.

The entire collection (366) of Orpen’s letters and sketches which were donated to the gallery in 1974 by Vivien Graves, daughter of Mrs Evelyn St. George have been digitized under the gallery's 'artsearch' programme.

The portrait of McCormack went under the hammer at the Christie’s Irish and Sporting Art sale in London.

Among the other lots was Belfast-born Paul Henry’s Sunshine in Kerry,which sold for €176,120.