Roderic O’Conor was born to a wealthy landowning family at Miltown, Castleplunkett, Co Roscommon in 1860. He trained at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp before moving to Paris in 1886. He died in Nueil Sur Layon France in 1940. He spent the vast majority of his mature career in France. Initially his time was spent by and large in Brittany from 1891 to 1904, mainly in Paris, from 1904 to 1933 and mainly in Nueil Sur Layon from 1934 until his death in 1940.
Whilst in Brittany O’Conor painted mostly at Pont-Aven. Upon his arrival in Pont-Aven O’Conor took up residence in the Pension Gloanec. He became a member of the Pont-Aven circle, a loosely acquainted group of avant-garde artists united in their adherence to Paul Gauguin and his Synthesist theories. O’Conor established links with Gauguin, a friendship often regarded as the most important of the Irishman’s life.
In the autumn of 1893 the death of O’Conor’s father forced his return to Ireland. As the sole male heir he inherited a considerable estate in Milltown, Castleplunkett, Co. Roscommon. This greatly altered his financial circumstances, as the rents from the estate brought him a generous income. Arguably, this financial independence may have given him greater stylistic freedom, as it removed the necessity of producing work specifically designed to sell.
During his time in Paris O’Conor was based in a Montparnasse studio at 102 rue du Cherche-Midi. The studio itself had a considerable influence on his painting. His ceramic collection, small library and incidental furniture occur frequently in his still lifes, whilst the location of the studio window influenced the composition of many works.
In 1910 O’Conor received the proceeds from the sale of his lands in Castleplunkett under the 1903 Wyndham Land Act. This considerably altered his financial situation. He invested heavily and successfully in the New York stock exchange with the proceeds. This newfound wealth enabled him to travel more extensively than he had previously done.
By the beginning of the 1930's O’Conor’s health had begun to decline. In 1933 together with his long-term mistress Renée Honta, they bought a house at Nueil-sur-Layon in the Loire valley and were married in Paris that October. They moved to Spain for a short while but returned to a quiet life at Nueil-sur-Layon in the years leading up to O’Conor’s peaceful death in their house on the 18th of March 1940. He is buried at the local cemetery.
In November 2009 the Municipal Council of Nueil sur Layon agreed that the establishment of a twinning project with Roscommon County Council should be examined. A letter was received from the Mayor M. Jean-Marie Defois on 22nd January 2010 proposing a twinning on the basis of a cultural link and to perpetuate the works and memory of Roderic O’Conor. Twinning would initially be at civic level and would develop to enable the communities to develop friendship through the legacy of Roderic O’Conor and contribute to a better mutual understanding of customs and languages. Roscommon County Council agreed and suggested that the twinning process should commence at municipal level with exchange Mayoral visits to take place in 2010, the 150th Anniversary of O’Conor’s birth. A delegation from Roscommon County Council travelled to Nueil sur Layon in May 2010 and were received by the Mayor and elected members from Nueil Sur Layon at a ceremony in Town Hall/ Mairie where a declaration of Intention to Twin by signed by Mayors – Jean Marie Defois and Tony Ward. The delegation also visited the riverside where O’Conor painted, the O’Conor House, his grave and went on a walking tour of the town.
150th Anniversary of O’Conor’s Birth
To mark the 150th Anniversary of the birth of artist Roderic O’Connor, a special illustrated lecture was organised by Roscommon County Council on Saturday 16th October in the Douglas Hyde Centre, Portahard, Frenchpark. The lecture was entitled ‘Roderic O’Connor (1860-1940) – A Life in Art’ and wasdelivered by Dr. Roy Johnson an artist, art critic and art historian and studied painting at the Belfast College of Art (1962-66), Art Education at the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire (1968-69) and was awarded his Ph.D. at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1992 for his thesis on Roderic O’Conor. In the same month An Post published two commemorative stamps of his birth, designed by Ger Garland, showing a painting of his most famous work, The Breton Girl, painted during his time in Pont-Aven in 1906, and a self-portrait of the artist from 1928.
The twinning agreement was signed at the Courthouse Roscommon on 13th May 2011 by Mayors, Councillor Ernie Keenan and Jean Marie Defois. The French delegation also visited O’Conor’s birthplace and were welcomed to a reception, meal and entertainment by the newly formed Twinning Committee and a large crowd from the local community in Kilmurray Community Centre. They also visited Clonalis House, Castlerea, Ballintubber Castle, Rathcroghan and Cruachan Ai centre in Tulsk which have links to the O’Conor Family as well as Castlerea Library where a Roderic O’Conor Exhibition was open and King House in Boyle. Twinning Committees have been formed in Nueil Sur Layon and Castleplunkett and a delegation from Castleplunkett visited Nueil Sur Layon for Bastille Day celebrations in July 2012