O'CONNOR, James Arthur
(b. 1792, Dublin, d. 1841, London)

Biography

Irish painter. The son of a Dublin print-seller and engraver, he may have received instruction in painting from William Sadler (c. 1782-1839), a prolific Irish painter of small landscapes. O'Connor first exhibited in 1809 in Dublin; in 1813 he went to London with Francis Danby and George Petrie, intending to settle there, but soon returned home. His earliest achievement of note was a group of topographical views, commissioned in 1818 by the 2nd Marquis of Sligo and the 14th Earl of Clanricarde (private collection). Two of these, View of Westport with Croagh Patrick and its pendant Westport House from Barratt's Hill, demonstrate that O'Connor was then capable of fine painting in a tightly handled 18th-century manner and that he had learnt much from the example of the Irish landscape painter Thomas Roberts (1748-1778). Four views of Bridge House, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, and its environs (National Gallery, Dublin) were also commissioned at that time and are very nearly as accomplished.

O'Connor left Ireland on a first Continental 'grand tour' accompanied by his picture-dealer in 1826, visiting Belgium, though very few paintings from this period are now identifiable. A subsequent sojourn on the Continent in 1832 took him to France and Germany, rather in the way that his friend the artist Francis Danby had done in the previous year. O'Connor's aim was the picturesque and the romantic, an aim which lead him away from the usual journey to Italy and the South, but towards the Rhine and the Moselle with its dramatic mountainous landscape. From the few paintings of this trip which are now identifiable, it seems that O'Connor was either unable or unwilling radically to change his pictorial style to a type which might thoroughly reflect the work of the German Romantics such as Caspar David Friedrich: his interpretation of the landscape seems more inspired by his native Wicklow than by the brooding grandeur of the wild German mountains, though he does nod towards the fashionable Romanticism by using more dramatic lighting effects, storms etc..

Though moderately successful, his later years were dogged with financial hardship and ill health and he died in straitened circumstances.

James Arthur O'Connor is amongst the best-known and prolific of the early Irish landscape painters, and his work is arguably the best documented. Born in Dublin in 1792, his work provides a bridge between the early Georgian school of Barret, Carver and Roberts, and the early Victorian topographers who succeeded him. He retained the eighteenth century delight in Irish topography, and he has left us with a vivid record of the land in Dublin and its environs before the developments of the 19th century.