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William Orpen: An Onlooker in France

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. The book ends with a passionate indictment of politicians and their mismanagement of the War, and the rapidity with which the ordinary soldier was forgotten. This compelling book was first published in 1921.


This new edition contains a critical essay by Robert Upstone which assesses Orpen’s career as a War Artist and the pivotal impact the war had upon him. It investigates the major controversies that marked this period of his life and is set against the wider ambiguity of Irish soldiers supporting the British war effort, while at home in 1916 the Irish Republican Brotherhood proclaimed an independent Ireland. Orpen’s portraits of generals, politicians, ordinary soldiers and airmen and evocative battlefield landscapes and bitter allegories on the waste of life and futility of war accompany the text. Also included is a catalogue of the Imperial War Museum’s definitive collection of Orpen’s war paintings and drawings.

  • Commentary by Angela Weight and Robert Upstone

    240 pages, hardback

    254 x 190 mm, 100 illustrations
    ISBN: 978 1 903470 67 1

  • About the authors

    Robert Upstone was Curator of Modern British Art at Tate Britain. He has written catalogues for several major exhibitions at Tate and curated the exhibition William Orpen: Politics, Sex and Death at the Imperial War Museum and National Gallery of Ireland in 2005. Angela Weight was until 2005 Keeper of the Department of Art at the Imperial War Musuem, where she organized the art exhibition programme for many years. She is now a writer and independent curator.

  • In the press

    "...a memorable and beautiful reminder of the outstanding abilities of this truly great Irish artist". (Bruce Arnold, Irish Independent)


    "The book is beautifully produced … a lovely edition of a flawed and partial, but engaginng and fascinating book". (Times Literary Supplement)

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