Title: Study of a figure for the mural The Holy Well
Charcoal on wove paper
Dimensions: Image/Sheet: 13 3/4 × 17 1/2 inches (34.9 × 44.5 cm)
Gift of Charles Baskerville, Class of 1919
Object Number: 95.027.008
This drawing is for the kneeling figure seen at the bottom center of Orpen’s 1916 opus The Holy Well, a satirical depiction of religious sites dedicated to saints and visited by those praying for miracles. The “saint” in this case is, in fact, Orpen’s studio assistant, Seán Keating. Penitents are shown in various stages of undress as they approach him in a scene intended to shock. It is a disturbing riff on what was then a romantic view of Irish peasants and their piety popular among writers and artists of the time.
Orpen made numerous preparatory drawings for this work, all very detailed and carefully considered. The half-naked figure, in the pose of a supplicant, is drawn with touching realism. If the scene weren’t quite so absurd, it could be mistaken as being based on a real memory. (“Drawing the Line: 150 Years of European Artists on Paper," curated by Nancy E. Green and presented at the Johnson Museum January 20–June 10, 2018)
NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.