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Orpen at War (Paperback)

Historical Fiction

Imprint: Liffey Press
Pages: 272
Illustrations: colour photos
ISBN: 9781739789237
Published: 15th October 2022


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During World War I, Major William Orpen, a highly successful commercial painter in Ireland and the UK, takes up a posting as official British war artist. Full of high hopes he sets off to the front with a Rolls-Royce and a driver.


But nothing in his privileged life prepared him for the horrors he encounters. Based in Amiens, he is initially unable to capture on canvas the sights that haunt him, but eventually his inspired output becomes prolific – Tommies in rat-infested, water-sodden trenches; men charging across the tortured earth with fixed bayonets; generals in luxurious quarters; nurses ministering gently to the wounded in the hell-hole hospitals.


Commissioned to paint the Paris Peace Conference he settles in Paris with Yvonne, his model and muse. His epic, To the Unknown British Soldier in France, is hailed by some as ‘symbolic’; but by others as a ‘blasphemous disgrace’.


Disheartened at the ending of the war, he is consumed by its futility and what he sees as the fighting men’s betrayal by the politicians. At war with himself, he divides his time between Paris and London but suffers from depression and ill health. Alienated from his family, he dies in 1931 of alcohol-related complications.


This illustrated biographical novel – featuring dozens of Orpen’s paintings and B&Wdrawings – will enthral anyone interested in the brutal reality of World War I, and help us to appreciate one artist’s remarkable personal and creative journey.

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