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REVIEW on Wiliam Orpen: Politics, Sex and Death

RUSI Journal, Feb 2005, Vol. 150, No. 1 By John Mackinlay

At the height of his success society portrait painter Sir William Orpen was earning 750,00 a year in today's money. A procession of Rolls-Royce motor cars carried politicians and social luminaries to his London studio and beautiful women clamoured for his attention. Following his death, the Royal Academy organized a memorial exhibition of his best-known works in 1933 and soon after its closure Orpen fell from sight and critical attention. Defamed by his surviving rivals and former friends, the energetic proliferation of new art movements helped to accelerate Orpen's disappearance. Seventy years later the Imperial War Museum's resurrection of William Orpen in Politics, Sex and Death is something of a triumph of rediscovery and reinterpretation. Orpen's prolific output ranged from publicly acclaimed and sometimes controversial paintings to his private cartoons and drawings which illustrated his letters. The exhibition shows Orpen, not conventionally as a leading figure in London's clique of society painters but also as outsider, innovator, cynic, lover and observer.

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