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Brand: Angela Weight

William Orpen An Onlooker In France

by Angela Weight

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William Orpen : An Onlooker In France

The best known of the Official War Artists sent to France, Orpen was the only one to publish an extensive memoir of his experiences and observations. He was a talented writer, and his accounts of the last two years of the Great War and the Peace Conference that followed it are vivid, lucid and shrewd.

This book, which accompanied a retrospective exhibition at the Imperial War Museum London in January 2005, reappraises an artist who, at the time of his death in 1931, was probably the best-known painter in Britain. The book reveals the full variety of William Orpen's work from his highly accomplished portraits, his revitalization of the nude and the conversation piece, to his extraordinary allegories and war paintings. It analyzes the series of self-portraits, many mocking his own character with a mixture of humor and bitterness, that are a particular feature of his oeuvre. His experiences as an official war artist in France from 1917 to 1919 made him cynical of politicians. Although he painted brilliant portraits of these very men, and of generals and war heroes, he also produced some bitter allegories of war. The war years form the climax of both the book and the exhibition.

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