IN THE LUXEMBOURG GARDENS, c.1913

Important Australian Fine Art + International Art
Melbourne
27 November 2019
38

KATE O'CONNOR

(1876 – 1968, New Zealand/Australian)
IN THE LUXEMBOURG GARDENS, c.1913

oil on card

38.0 x 46.0 cm

signed with initials lower right: K L O’C
inscribed verso: O’Connor / O’Connor / 1953 / …24… / Mrs J Lorking (?) / Lis….
bears inscription on old label verso: / Mrs Oliver Williams / 11 Mosman Terrace / Mosman Park / 35625
bears inscription on old label verso: … / Mentone

Estimate: 
$15,000 – 20,000
Provenance

Private collection, Perth
Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne, acquired from the above in December 1988

Exhibited

Australian Art: 1790s – 1970s, Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne, 24 November – 9 December 1988, cat. 27 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)

Catalogue text

‘They took two straw-bottomed chairs and sat near the octagonal water which completes with its fountain of Cupids the enchanting artificiality of the Luxembourg. The sun shone more kindly now, and the trees which framed the scene were golden and lovely. A balustrade of stone gracefully enclosed the space, and the flowers, freshly bedded, were very gay … The place was grey and solid. Nurses, some in the white caps of their native province, others with satin streamers of the nounou [nannies], marched sedately two by two, wheeling perambulators and talking’.1

‘(My paintings) were just impressions of people I saw sitting about in the Gardens … sketches of people, nursemaids and babies and all those sorts … I just did them at one sitting’.2

In a 1947 interview with Kathleen O’Connor, the artist reflected that in her early Luxembourg Gardens paintings, she had ‘been more concerned with expression of character and pattern rather than exact representation of human form’.3 She proudly claimed that ‘Paris was my always my objective’,4 but once there, it was inevitable that she felt an acute loneliness. Indeed, her choice of muted colours has been interpreted as a reflection of her own sense of being an outsider, one whose lack of an immediate circle of family and friends left her with little choice but to roam Paris in search of subjects she could anonymously paint. Fortuitously, she found in the Luxembourg Gardens ‘quiet avenues and densely shaded areas … a perfect working environment for artists seeking to make quick sketches of the passing nursemaids, students and elegant promenaders’.5In the Luxembourg Gardens, c.1913, captures five of the Gardens’ elegantly hatted visitors, each seated on the distinctive slatted, folding chairs provided gratis. Amidst the Whistlerian browns and greys, deft flashes of pink and blue animate the feathers in the ladies’ hats, and through these flourishes, link this work to companion paintings such as The Pink Nurse, c.1910 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), and (Seated figure in purple/blue gown and hat), c.1910 – 14 (private collection, Perth),6 both of which feature similar contrasts of unexpected colour.

Paintings from these years are amongst the most sought-after of Kathleen O’Connor’s oeuvre with significant examples residing in the collections of Wesfarmers, Janet Holmes à Court, and the State galleries of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania.

1. W. Somerset Maugham, The Magician, Heinemann, London, first published 1908, quoted from 1974 edition, p. 2, cited in Gooding, J., Chasing Shadows: the art of Kathleen O’Connor, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1996, p. 23
2. Kathleen O’Connor, interview with Hazel de Berg, 28 May 1965, cited in Taylor, E., Australian Impressionists in France, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2013, p. 113
3. Kathleen O’Connor, quoted in ‘A Painter of the Modern School’, MiLady (magazine), Perth, January 1949, p. 67
4. Gooding, J., op. cit., p. 21
5. ibid.
6. The reverse of (Seated figure in purple gown and hat) also features a view of houses in Bruges.

ANDREW GAYNOR