Category Archives: Kathleen O’Connor of Paris

Legacy

KLOC ©RWoldendorp

Kathleen Laetitia (Kate) O’Connor died in the late hours of 24 August 1968, just before her ninety-second birthday. Fifty years ago today.

I am trying to imagine what a tweet from Kate would sound like. She was, in the context of her time, a dab hand at self-promotion—she had to be—and if I could spirit her into today’s world she would probably take to social media as though she was born to it.

Her voice is clear in my mind, but I can’t make the language work for Twitter. Nor the need for brevity.

A word to say that that nice young man Mr Lipscombe, very sensible type, is getting up an exhibition of my pictures at his salon at the Fremantle Arts Centre. I expect you’ll want to come. In haste to post, Kathleen L O’Connor #ParisInFremantle #AllTheSmartSetWillBeThere

The coming exhibition and my book Kathleen O’Connor of Paris celebrate her long life and a career that spanned six decades.

When Kate left Perth in 1906, ostensibly on a year-long sojourn to the Old Country, she was intent on pursuing a career as an artist. Paris, she said, was always her objective.

She spent most of the following fifty years abroad, exhibiting among artists she revered in the highly competitive salons of Paris, in many prestigious exhibitions, in two solo exhibitions. Her work was noticed, often lauded, by French critics. Financial reward eluded her, but her story speaks to a different kind of success.

In Australia, the Art Gallery of Western Australia staged two major retrospectives during her lifetime, and exhibitions in Adelaide and Melbourne brought her wide acclaim in the last years of her life.

I wish she could have known that there would be yet another retrospective at the state gallery. That her glorious decorative arts, very much the product of 1920s Jazz Age Paris, would be the feature of a new exhibition. That her paintings would become sought after, attracting high prices at auction. That her work would find its way into the national galleries of Australia and New Zealand, every state gallery and major collections across Australia. That fifty years after her death, she would still be an inspiration to other artists, and writers, too.

But none of us ever knows what the future will make of us, what our legacy will be.

I try another Kate-tweet.

A word to say that there is a book written up about all I have done, by that writer woman (you know the one? peculiar hair). The questions! She has taken liberties, I expect, but c’est la vie. #SheShouldWearAHat

Ah, Kate.

Being There—Kathleen O’Connor in Paris
runs at Fremantle Arts Centre,

14 September to 4 November 2018, 10am–5pm.

Kathleen O’Connor of Paris
will be released by Fremantle Press in November 2018
and is available for pre-order now.

A pre-release launch of the book will be part of the exhibition opening,
13 September, Fremantle Arts Centre.

Photograph courtesy Richard Woldendorp

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Kate’s Paris: Galeries Lafayette

Galeries Lafayette is a spectacular emporium in the heart of Paris’s Opéra district—palatial architecture that whispers of a bygone age, moderating the din of twenty-first century retail. It was October when I was there, on the trail of Kathleen O’Connor, but the store was already in the process of being decorated for Christmas, with a white tree rising through the central atrium.

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Kate’s connection with Galeries Lafayette was in the 1920s, when she diversified into the decorative arts. She produced designs for fabric, wallpaper and soft furnishings in a modernist style influenced by Art Deco—wild colours and avant-garde creations that suited Jazz Age Paris but were considered ‘startling’ and ‘bizarre’ in Australia.

Her clients included La Maîtrise, the design workshop of Galeries Lafayette headed by renowned designer Maurice Dufrêne.

You can see an example of Kate’s handpainted fabric on the National Gallery of Australia site here. I would not usually describe myself as a covetous person when it comes to clothes, but oh, how I covet that dress!

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Kathleen O’Connor of Paris coming soon from Fremantle Press

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Kate’s Paris: rue de la Grande Chaumière

Rue de la Grande Chaumière is a quiet little street that runs between boulevard Montparnasse and rue Notre Dame des Champs in Paris’s 6th arrondissement. Buildings on both sides of the street are mostly unremarkable—four, five or six storeys, lots of shuttered windows, a few planter boxes. Fairly plain, for Paris.

I was interested in numbers 9 and 16: artist Kathleen O’Connor lived at 9 before the First World War, and at 16 after her wartime return to Paris from London.

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At number 16, there were three street-level doors—a charming little cordonnerie (shoe repair shop), a wide green door to the apartments upstairs, a restaurant beside that—with line of motorcycles parked in front of them.

I looked up at the three levels of shuttered windows above. Kate had probably lived in a single studio room on the top floor—the cheapest. No running water, no heating, a gas ring if she was lucky, a communal toilet. There was a light on in one of those windows now, a red towel hanging over the wrought-iron window box. How many rooms of the kind Kate lived in had been joined to form a modern apartment?

At number 9, I found a little boutique art hotel, the Hotel à la Villa des Artistes. It looked quite modern but claims to have had Beckett, Fitzgerald, Foujita and Modigliani among its former guests. And this was Kate’s address, too, in mid-1913.

I was thrilled to see, opposite at number 14, that the Académie de la Grande Chaumière was still there, and still a working academy. Kate sometimes attended its evening sketch classes, and Lucien Simon and Claudio Castelucho were among her tutors.

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In 1913 she wrote from her room across the road:

In the midst of the Quarter, I am overlooking the school of Carlrossi [Colarossi, number 10] and the Grande Chaumière, and always there are passers-by. At the hours of the school one sees students hurrying in, armed with canvases, paint-boxes, etc., all sorts and constitutions of students of every nation.

As I watched, imagining Kate’s Paris, a van pulled up outside and began unloading boxes of—well, I couldn’t see of what. But they had to be watercolours, pastels, tubes of oil paints, brushes…Just had to be.

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Kathleen O’Connor of Paris coming soon from Fremantle Press

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A few Paris angles…

…because it’s Friday, and why not?

Have a lovely weekend 🙂

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Here she is, beautiful Kate…

It gives me great pleasure to share the cover of Kathleen O’Connor of Paris, forthcoming from Fremantle Press in November.

KOOP front cover final

And here’s the back-cover blurb:

What does it mean to live a life in pursuit of art?

In 1906, Kathleen O’Connor left conservative Perth, where her famous father’s life had ended in tragedy. She had her sights set on a career in thrilling, bohemian Paris.

More than a century later, novelist Amanda Curtin faces her own questions, of life and of art, as she embarks on a journey in Kate’s footsteps.

Part biography, part travel narrative, this is the story of an artist in a foreign land who, with limited resources and despite the impacts of war and loss, worked and exhibited in Paris for over forty years. Kate’s distinctive figure paintings, portraits and still lifes, highly prized today, form an inseparable part of the telling.

I look forward to introducing you to Kate in November. 🙂

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