Spring 2016 Auction Highlight Kathleen O’Connor

Lot 62 Kathleen O'Connor - Portrait of Frances Hodgkins
Lot 62 Kathleen O’Connor – Portrait of Frances Hodgkins

Kathleen O’Connor’s return to Australia from France in 1948 had an unfortunate consequence. Australian Customs in Fremantle impounded the artworks that she had sent from her Parisian studio and demanded 20% duty. The Custom’s officials had determined that as the paintings were foreign and had come to Australia for sale, duty was applicable. Unfortunately no amount of pleading by the artist or high powered intervention on her behalf could alter that ruling.

As she could not afford to pay the total duty, only 150 of the works survived and the balance was destroyed. In 1948 Australia, there were no arts programs in place to assist in her plight and we are left to ponder the enormity of the loss from a cultural and historical perspective. It was said that Miss O’Connor was vigilant in ensuring that the works she couldn’t afford to keep, were destroyed and did not get redirected.

Born in New Zealand in 1876 Kathleen O’Connor arrived in Western Australia in 1891. Her father, the celebrated engineer C.Y. O’Connor, had accepted the position of Engineer-in Chief with the Western Australian Government. She studied at the Perth Technical School under JWR Linton and at the Bushey School of Art in London under Frank Brangwyn and Hubert von Herkomer.

O’Connor settled in Paris in 1910 and apart from the war years lived and worked there until her return to Australia in 1948. She associated with many artists of her time including, Vuillard, Sickert, van Dongen, Modigliani and Chagall. Her Australasian associates included Rupert Bunny, Frances Hodgkins and Roy de Maistre.

Kathleen O’Connor identified the sitter in this work as Frances Hodgkins to Daniel Thomas during an interview. It was one of those works she chose to include in the 150 pieces she could afford to keep.