About this artwork

This ink drawing is an early self-portrait by Irish artist William Orpen. Though undated, it was probably made during his student years. Orpen displayed an interest in painting from an early age. Encouraged by his mother but not his father, who wanted him to join the family law firm, he enrolled at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin aged only thirteen. His talent was noticed, and during his time at the school Orpen won many prizes and honours. In 1897 he moved to the Slade School of Fine Art in London. After working as an official war artist in 1917, Orpen had a successful career as a fashionable portrait painter. He also painted a number of realistic self-portraits. They are often searching and dramatic, with complex arrangements of space and light.

Updated before 2020

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Sir William Orpen

Sir William Orpen

Orpen was born in Blackrock, near Dublin. He studied at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin from his early teens before moving to London in 1897. Orpen subsequently studied at the Slade School of Fine Art for two years, where he became friends with the artist Augustus John. He later went on to become one of the most successful society portraitists of his day, commanding huge sums of money for his work. In 1917 Orpen worked as an Official War Artist in France.