It seems not unreasonable to consider James Arthur O’Connor to have been Ireland’s equivalent of John Constable. The two men were near contemporaries, both were landscape painters who continued that genre’s traditions initiated in the 17th century by Claude Lorraine, and both exhibited in the same venues when based in London. Constable found it easier than O’Connor to shake off 18th-century notions of idealized beauty but the latter ultimately did so in his final years when he produced work of a more romantic character. But O’Connor seems by nature to have been a conservative artist, perhaps because he was essentially self-taught, although it has been proposed that he received some instruction from William Sadler and George Petrie. Whatever the truth, it remains the case that an O’Connor picture is easily identifiable since his style altered little over the course of some three decades. The key features of that style were apparent in a picture that came up for sale at what Adam’s auctioneers elusively described as a ‘distinguished Ulster collection’ in early April. The painting, Wooded landscape with figures, like so many others, features a wooded landscape with a line of feather-leafed trees receding into the distance around the perimeter of a lake. Slightly to the left in the foreground are three human figures, two of them wearing the bright red clothing that O’Connor and others so often used to make sure they could be easily discerned within the scene. Other elements of a classic O’Connor painting are also present, such as the muddy brown foreground, a reflection of foliage on water and the line of scudding clouds in the sky above. In this instance, familiarity does not breed contempt but contentment: O’Connor knew exactly what he was about when he produced such paintings, confident that they would satisfy the clientele of his time, and their successors thereafter. Such continues to be the case. Expected to fetch €12,000-€14,000, the picture ultimately went for €16,000.
This auction took place on 6 April 2016.