Kathleen O'Connor1876 - 1968 Luxembourg Gardens 1912
- oil on card
Kathleen O’Connor loved Paris. She was thirty years old when she first left Western Australia in 1906, travelling to Europe to study and paint. In 1912, when she made this painting, she was living near the Luxembourg Gardens and immersed in the creative life of the neighbourhood. The gardens were a favourite place for artists to work, and O’Connor captured various scenes in the shady grounds and tree-lined promenades.
The two women sit in solitude, one facing away from the other. Each appears unaware of the painter, and the image suggests that combination of proximity and elegant privacy characteristic of Parisian urbanity. The green metal chairs are enduring design emblems of the city, and are still scattered around the Luxembourg Gardens over a century later.
One can sense the presence of the painter working on the spot, making fluid, quick strokes on card. The cream tone of the card itself forms part of the picture, and is visible between the marks of colour. A horizontal line of balustrading traverses the upper part of the image, with trees beyond. Perhaps one of the garden’s many sculptures is indicated on the top right. The terrace is bathed in shadows and filtered light; poetic reflections in soft orange, grey-brown, and a smoky mauve that intensifies in the deep purple hat of the woman in the foreground. Her head is tilted down. She may be reading, or sewing. The other woman is distinguished by the playfully dynamic rendering of her towering headwear.
This is the earliest of the three Kathleen O’Connor works in the Wesfarmers Collection. This painting is very small in scale and muted in tone, but it captures a vibrant moment in the life of an artist taking her place in the centre of Europe’s art world. In the previous year, 1911, two of her paintings were shown at the Salon d’Automne, marking the beginning of her European career as an exhibiting artist.
In 1914, when war was declared, O’Connor left for London, and returned to live again in Paris after the war. It is interesting to contrast this early Luxembourg Gardens painting with the vibrant complexity of Still Life with Lamp, painted in the 1920s, and also in the Wesfarmers Collection.
Text by Robyn Johnston