Walter Frederick Osborne, Irish, 1859-1903
Title: In a Dublin Park, Light and Shade
Date: c.1895
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
71 x 91 cm
Signed: lower right: Walter Osborne
Credit Line: Purchased, 1944
Object Number: NGI.1121
DescriptionThough the manner in which the sunlight breaking through trees and falling upon the figures below may call to mind Parisian paintings of an earlier generation, this is not a scene of middle-class citizens enjoying a moment of recreation. Instead, it is a record of Dublin’s poor, in which the pleasant setting jars with the careworn expressions of the figures collected on a park bench. Especially poignant is the contrast between the sunken features of the young mother and the radiant youthfulness of the barefoot boy at her side. The artist’s choice of characters of various generations was no doubt very deliberate and hints at the cyclical nature of urban poverty. It is, in that sense, an unusually powerful work by the artist. Osborne was not a social realist, but rather an artist inclined to represent in a matter-of-fact manner subjects drawn from a city with which he was intimately familiar. The figures’ obvious awareness of the viewer is redolent of photography, a medium in which Osborne had a particular interest.
The son of a painter, Osborne trained in Dublin before enrolling at the Académie Royale in Antwerp. In 1883 he moved to Brittany in the company of artist-compatriots Nathaniel Hill and Joseph Malachy Kavanagh. From France, he travelled to England, where he spent several years before moving back to Dublin in 1893 on the death of his sister. He made his living principally as a portrait painter but continued to paint scenes of everyday life and occasional landscapes.

March 2016

ProvenanceCollection W.J. McCoughey, JP, Belfast; purchased, Mr J.K. Bell, 1944
Exhibition HistoryRoyal Academy of Arts, London, 1895

Aspects of Irish Art, a Loan Exhibition; Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Columbus, Ohio, 27 January - 3 March 1974; Toledo Museum of Arts, Toledo, Ohio, 17 March - 14 April 1974; St Louis Art Museum, St Louis, Missouri, 3 May - 9 June 1974

Walter Osborne, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 16 November - 31 December 1983; The Ulster Museum, Belfast, 20 January - 29 February 1984

Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’: the City as Character, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 2 April - 15 July 2012
Label TextThough the dappled sunlight may call to mind Parisian paintings of an earlier generation, this is not a scene of middle-class recreation, but rather a record of Dublin’s poor, in which the careworn expressions of the figures jar with the pleasant setting. Especially poignant is the contrast between the sunken features of the young mother and the radiant youthfulness of the barefoot boy at her side. Osborne was not a social realist, but often recorded his native city in a matter-of-fact manner. The figures’ engagement with the viewer is redolent of photography, a medium in which Osborne had a particular interest.