Portrait of Count John McCormack

Press Release: June 2009

Mr. Martin Cullen, T.D., Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, today (24 June) unveiled the National Gallery's most recent acquisition, a portrait of Count JohnMcCormack (1884-1945) by Sir William Orpen (1878-1931). The painting, which was acquired at auction last month at Christie's Sale of Irish and Sporting Art in London, is now on view in the National Portrait Gallery. Admission is free.

Speaking at the unveiling today, Martin Cullen T.D., said: "I am delighted this significant portrait of the world-famous tenor John McCormack by one of Ireland's renowned artists has been acquired by our National Gallery. The acquisition will enable the Gallery to make accessible a previously privately held portrait to visitors. Count John McCormack had a wonderful voice in both operatic and popular song and he won the hearts of millions at home and particularly in America. This acquisition is of major significance and will enhance the Gallery's existing collection of national portraits."

McCormack is still regarded as one of the world's finest lyric tenors. This portrait by Orpen reflects the huge reputation the singer commanded internationally during his lifetime. The artist presents McCormack against a monochrome background, a format Orpen used for many of his portraits of single sitters. McCormack's relaxed pose and informal dress - he appears in tennis 'togs' - seem rather incongruous with the formality or theatricality associated with the discipline at which he excelled, but are consistent with numerous portrayals of classical singers of the period. The sheets of music that John McCormack holds loosely between his fingers alone hint at his occupation. Orpen manages to communicate McCormack's imposing stature without making this the dominant characteristic of the portrait.

 

Note on the artist:   Born in Dublin in 1878, William Orpen spent the largest part of his working life in England and became one of the most fashionable and successful portraitists of the period. He was knighted in 1918 for his services as a war artist. The most recent major retrospective show of his work was held in 2005 at the Imperial War Museum in London and at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin which comprised some 70 oils and a comprehensive presentation of his illustrated letters and sketches. The National Gallery of Ireland has a number of oils by Orpen, among them The Vere Foster Family (1907), The Dead Ptarmigan (c.1909), The Holy Well (1916), Sunlight (c.1925), in addition to a collection (366) of Orpen's letters and sketches which were gifted to the Gallery in 1974.