Morgan O’Driscoll: Roderic O’Conor

Roderic O’Conor (1860-1940) FIGURES IN A POOL (1898-1900) oil on board
31.25x 40.5cm

Roderic O’Conor’s Figures in a Pool achieved a hammer price of €56,000 at Morgan O’Driscoll’s late April sale. We should see an increase of interest in O’Conor’s work this year with a major exhibition opening in the National Gallery of Ireland on 18 July and running until 28 October. The work was completed in c. 1900 at Pont-Aven in Britanny and is one of only a handful of O’Conor’s nudes that are set outdoors – it shows two young women disporting themselves playfully in a secluded pool. It is also unusual in that it features more than one figure – almost all O’Conor’s nudes feature one subject only. O’Conor spent the bulk of his creative life in France, the first dozen years or so around Pont-Aven, the beautiful village associated with Gauguin. Throughout his career he avoided dealers and had no interest in selling his work. He was not short of money as he enjoyed an income from an estate back in Ireland. He died in 1940 and his work first came on the market after a studio sale in 1956 following his wife’s death. The sale focused on O’Conor’s personal collection the highlight of which was a Modigliani (Cariatide Rose) that sold for 2.5 million francs. The highest price paid for an O’Conor (Le Vallon) at the sale was a modest 50,000 francs. So in 1956 Modigliani was valued at around 50 times the almost unknown O’Conor. In the light of the recent sale of a Modigliani nude for $157.2 million, it would be interesting to speculate what an equivalent O’Conor nude (such as A Reclining Nude before a Mirror featured in the spring edition of the Irish Arts Review) would be worth now that he has a substantial reputation. I suspect that the record £792,000 (€924,000) achieved by Sotheby’s in 2005 for La Lisiere du Bois would be under threat.