Tag Archives: Kathleen O’Connor of Paris

Researching an artist: a few favourite resources

Research played a major role in the creation of Kathleen O’Connor of Paris, and I learned a lot in the process. I had to. Narrative non-fiction is a new genre for me, and I knew I would need to be working from a strong foundation.

I also had a subject whose long life was lived in many places, and whose career would have to be examined from different perspectives.

Here are some of the resources I found particularly valuable.

Specialist art libraries
During the course of my research, I had the opportunity to visit the library of the Art Gallery of Western Australia; the National Art Library in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery Library and the Courtauld Institute Library in London; and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The collections of these wonderful institutions include materials such as exhibition catalogues, collections of press cuttings, obscure recordings and publications, regional registers, dictionaries of artists—and probably many other things, but these are the ones I accessed.

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Online archives
What would researchers in Australia do without Trove, the National Library of Australia’s searchable digital collection of Australian newspapers from 1803 to 1955? Thanks to Trove, along with the propensity of local nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century newspapers to report in great detail on just about every event that happened in the colony, I was able to get a sense of Kate’s adolescent years in Perth and Fremantle. Gallica, the online library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, was another source I used for locating press articles and reviews, although it is not a comprehensive collection of the national library’s resources.

Pay-for-view databases
I found it a sound investment to pay for a month’s subscription to ancestry.com in order to track genealogical resources relating to Kate and others. Similarly, a month’s subscription to an art auction database gave me access to several decades of auction sales, and to works of Kate’s I had not seen anywhere else.

‘Can you help?’
I placed a paragraph in this weekly column in the West Australian newspaper, asking for information from anyone who had known Kate or held her artwork. Although responses were few, each one of them was a gem—some wonderful anecdotes from a (then) young man who used to deliver art supplies to Kate; an artwork whose whereabouts I had not known of; a photograph of Kate that made me smile; contact from a family member; some details about the buying and selling of a much-loved painting.

Artworks
I’ve saved the best for last. I made a point of viewing as many of Kate’s artworks as I could locate during the course of researching her life, and the experience of seeing them up close was nothing short of thrilling. And I discovered something I had not known before: that the back of a painting—or at least of Kate’s paintings—has its own story to tell, in the form of inscriptions; old labels recording dates, prices, addresses, titles; exhibition history; sketches; even other works. The privilege of viewing these works in galleries, offices, store-rooms, vaults and private homes will stay with me as one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing life.

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Publication day has arrived…

…for this bright and shiny package that represents, for me, a decades-long fascination that developed, in the last few years, into an obsession. A big thank-you to Fremantle Press for making the package so beautiful (and for much else besides).

Welcome to the world again, Kate.

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For those based in Perth, there are a few events coming up over the coming two weeks:

3 November: Literary Afternoon Tea at State Buildings, Perth City, 1–3pm. Tickets (still a few left) from $60, bookings here.

6 November: In Conversation at Beaufort Street Books, Beaufort Street, Mt Lawley, 6.15pm for a 6.30 start. Tickets $10, including cheese and wine tasting, bookings here.

8 November: Author talk, A.H. Bracks Library, corner Canning Highway and Stock Road, Melville, 6–8pm. Free event but bookings essential here.

15 November: Great Big Book Club Read, Fremantle Arts Centre, 1 Finnerty Street, Fremantle, 6pm. (The winner of the T.A.G. Hungerford Award will also be announced on the same night.) Free event but RSVPs essential here.

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Kate’s Paris: Chemin du Montparnasse

During my research trip to Paris, I stumbled on Chemin du Montparnasse while looking for 21 avenue du Maine. I quickly realised that they were one and the same. The name is a modern one that Kathleen O’Connor would not have recognised, as this narrow little lane lined with artists’ studios was referred to in her time only by its street address. 

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An arts centre, Villa Vassilieff, today occupies the site of the studio of a former inhabitant of the laneway, the Russian artist Marie Vassilieff. Vassilieff ran an academy from her upstairs studio, and Kate occasionally attended her evening sketch classes with British artist Nina Hamnett. 

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It was a Sunday when I walked through Chemin du Montparnasse, peering into atelier windows and gazing up, imagining Kate at work with her charcoal and sketchbook. Although it was quiet, deserted, I fancied I could hear laughter and the clomp-clomp of feet trudging upstairs to class, the creak of easels, the patient, weary sighs of artists’ models holding a pose.

It was a delight to find this remnant of Kate’s Paris in today’s Montparnasse.

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Kathleen O’Connor of Paris will be available from 1 November

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Kate’s Paris: Luxembourg Gardens

I love the Luxembourg Gardens, the centrepiece of Paris’s 6th arrondissement. Kathleen O’Connor’s earliest works in Paris were painted here, en plein air—oil sketches of individual figures and groups captured opportunistically. Women in long Edwardian dresses and elaborate hats, nursemaids with infants in prams, family picnics, couples conversing, women knitting, sewing, sketching…

On my last visit, I sat near the lake, the Grand Bassin, watching walkers and runners, men and women pushing strollers, people reading newspapers or scrolling on their phones, groups of friends chatting. My sister was beside me with sketchbook and pencil, absorbed, while I watched the life of the gardens through the lens of my camera.

Just as they had been in Kate’s Paris, the gardens were still a place for quiet reflection, leisurely pursuits, human connection. And the artist’s eye.

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Kathleen O’Connor of Paris coming soon from Fremantle Press

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An exhibition opens, a book enters the world…

The exhibition Being There—Kathleen O’Connor in Paris opened last night, at the Fremantle Arts Centre, on the eve of Kate’s 142nd birthday. This stunning exhibition of 56 works is drawn from her long career of six decades, and includes one of her student works from 1903 and her last (unfinished) work, dated 1965. It also features ephemera and some of her personal possessions—exhibition posters and invitations, her famous tortoiseshell bangles, a fragile 1913 Salon d’Automne catalogue, items that feature in her 1920s still lifes. The exhibition runs until 4 November, 10am – 5pm daily, and if you’re in the area, or visiting from elsewhere, I encourage you to drop in.

Alongside last night’s exhibition opening was the pre-release launch of Kathleen O’Connor of Paris. Mike Lefroy—author, historian and one of Kate’s great-nephews—gave a fabulous launch speech. I wish I’d recorded it! But here are a couple of photos.

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I’ll be giving an author talk at the gallery on Saturday 22 September, and am really looking forward to having this wonderful opportunity to talk about the works in the exhibition and put them into the context of Kate’s life. Pre-release copies of the book will be available for purchase (ahead of the release in late October), and I’ll be signing after the talk.

If you’d like to come along to this free event, here are the details.

Author talk/book signing: Kathleen O’Connor of Paris,
in conjunction with the exhibition
Being There—Kathleen O’Connor in Paris
Fremantle Arts Centre
1 Finnerty Street (corner of Finnerty and Ord streets), Fremantle
22 September 2018, 1–3pm
Free event
RSVP here

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Kate’s Paris: cafés of Montparnasse

Montparnasse Bienvenüe is one of the busiest métro stations in Paris, and, being a transfer station for several lines, one of the largest. I discovered it’s also an easy place in which to get lost. I seemed to be walking for miles through tunnels and along travelators before finding my way out!

Among the many things to see in Montparnasse are the cafés along boulevard Montparnasse and its arteries. For Kathleen O’Connor and thousands of other artists, these were part of a way of life in the years before the First World War and through the 1920s. They would meet there at the end of the day for replenishment of one form or another—hearty food or a bowl of coffee, information or gossip, serious or not so serious discussion about art and life.

Kate revelled in

the café life, which to me is almost the most fascinating of all there is to see. Cafés dancing with lights, glasses glittering with reflections, and with it all the music of many voices, the babble of many tongues.

As I stood on the corner of boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail, with the distinctive red facade of La Rotonde in front of me, Le Dôme on the other side and La Coupole a few paces from that, it occurred to me that these iconic landmarks are as instantly recognisable as the Eiffel Tower.

Just as they had been the centre of life for foreign artists in Kate’s Paris, today they are a beacon for tourists. I watched them coming and going, listened to ‘the babble of many tongues’.

But there was not a paint-stained smock among them.

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Kathleen O’Connor of Paris coming soon from Fremantle Press

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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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