O'Connor, James Arthur (DNB00)


O'CONNOR, JAMES ARTHUR (1791–1841), painter, was born in Dublin in 1791. His father was an engraver, who brought him up to his own profession. O'Connor's mind, however, was too original and creative to be content with mere reproduction, and he soon forsook engraving for landscape painting. By 1812 he was able to instruct in that art his pupil, Francis Danby [q. v.], whose first picture was exhibited in that year. He was also the intimate friend of George Petrie [q. v.], by whose instructions he probably profited. In 1813 the three friends made the expedition to London which has been described under Danby, Francis. O'Connor, unlike Danby, returned to Ireland, but in 1822 quitted Dublin for London, ‘after years of hard labour, disappointment, and neglect.’ He had married during the interval. His name first appears in the catalogue of the Royal Academy in 1822, and he contributed to seventeen exhibitions in all up to 1840. He also exhibited with the Society of British Artists, of which he was elected a member. His contributions were always landscapes. In May 1826 he proceeded to Brussels, where he remained until the following year. While there he painted several successful pictures, but the expedition proved unfortunate from his being swindled out of a sum of money, under what circumstances is not stated. In September 1832 he went to Paris, and continued there painting and studying until the following May. He had intended to visit Italy, but was diverted from his purpose by the apparent friendliness of a person who proved to be a swindler, but who, without assignable motive, offered him introductions to influential residents near the Saar and Moselle. Having gone thither accordingly, he was so delighted with the district as to abandon his Italian tour and remain in Belgium and Rhenish Prussia until November, painting some of his best pictures. In 1839 his health began to decline, and his inability to work involved him in pecuniary embarrassment, from which he was partly extricated by the generosity of Sir Charles Coote in commissioning a picture and paying for it in advance. He died at Brompton on 7 Jan. 1841. ‘A spirit,’ says his biographer in the ‘Dublin Monthly Magazine,’ ‘of exceeding mildness; manly, ardent, unobtrusive, and sincere; generous in proclaiming contemporary merit, and unskilled and reluctant to put forth his own.’ His landscapes were usually small and unpretending, but, to judge by the specimens now accessible, of extraordinary merit. Like his friend Danby, he was a poet with the brush, and exquisitely reproduced the impressions inspired by the more romantic and solemn aspects of nature. Several of his works are at South Kensington, and there is a charming example in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. There are also two fine works by him in the National Gallery of Ireland: one a view on the Dargle; the other ‘The Poachers,’ a moonlight landscape with figures, a composition steeped in Irish sentiment.

[‘M’ (said to be G. F. Mulvany, the first director of the Irish National Gallery) in the Dublin Monthly Magazine for April 1842; Bryan's Dict. of Painters; Gent. Mag. 1841; Stokes's Life of George Petrie.]

R. G.