Sir William Orpen portraits lead Sotheby’s British and Irish Art sale

Two outstanding portraits by Irish artist Sir William Orpen will headline Sotheby’s sale of British and Irish Art in London on Thursday, 10 May 2012. The company is redesigning its traditional auctions of Victorian and Edwardian Art, and Irish Art and these sales will be retitled British and Irish Art: Victorian/Early 20th Century/Sporting/Marine/Scottish/Irish. These auctions will take place in May and November and will bring together the finest drawings, watercolours and oil paintings from the Pre-Raphaelites to the British Impressionists. In addition, these two sales will have dedicated sections for Victorian Art, Early 20th Century British Art, Marine Art, Sporting Art, The Scottish Sale and The Irish Sale. Celebrating the distinct character of British and Irish Art will no doubt engage collectors worldwide, in response to the demands of new buyers who collect across a variety of genres.

Sir William Orpen, Portrait of Geoffrey, Fourth Marquis of Headfort. Estimate: £60,000-80,000. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Sir William Orpen, R.A., R.H.A. (1878-1931) is celebrated for his masterful portraiture. The May 2012 sale will bring to the market for the first time two fine portraits of The 4th Marquis and Marchioness of Headfort from a Private Collection. Portrait of Rosie, Fourth Marchioness of Headfort is estimated at £300,000-500,000 and Portrait of Geoffrey, Fourth Marquis of Headfort is estimated at £60,000-80,000.

The paintings are being presented for sale together for two reasons. The sitters, Geoffrey Thomas Taylour and Rose Boote, fell in love in the face of disrepute and disgrace, and it was a love that endured until Geoffrey’s death in 1943. Rose commissioned the portraits and they were almost invariably exhibited in the same exhibitions, although – save for one occasion at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool – not actually hung together. They were first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in the 147th Summer Exhibition of 1915.

Rose Boote, later 4th Marchioness of Headfort (1878-1958) was a Gaiety Girl who sang the part of Maisie ‘The Messenger Boy’ in 1900 under her professional name of Miss Rosie Boote. She was the daughter of a comedian from Nottingham and a straw hat sewer. It is said that she so charmed the young Marquis of Headfort, Geoffrey Thomas Taylour (1878–1943) following their meeting in 1900 that he married her on 11th April 1901. ‘Gaiety Girls’ was the name given to the chorus line girls who sang in musical comedy spectacles at the Gaiety Theatre on the Strand, London. Rosie was a leading actress and protégée of George Edwards, who from the 1890s managed and produced the shows. The ‘Gaiety Girls’ appeared on stage in bathing attire and in the latest fashions. They were respectable, elegant young ladies, unlike the corseted actresses from London’s earlier musical burlesques.

The marriage was supposed to have surprised and intrigued Edwardian society, and took place overcoming opposition from the family. Even Queen Victoria herself was even said to have commented on the match. The Marquis was from one of the most prominent Protestant families in Ireland and Rose was a Catholic. She married one of the most eligible young men of her day. Geoffrey had succeeded to the title 4th Marquis of Headfort on the death of his father in 1894 and with a number of estates in Ireland totalling about 22,000 acres, he moved in the highest echelons of British Society. As a Lieutenant in one of the country’s most respected regiments, the 1st Life Guards, the Marquis had been destined for a distinguished career. Upon her marriage, Rose left the theatre and resided with her husband at Headfort House in Ireland and in London. They had a wide circle of friends and entertained notable guests, including Sir William Orpen, playwrights and intellectuals.

The portraits passed from the artist’s studio to the Marquis in 1914, upon the Marquis’ death in 1943 to his wife, and thence by descent.

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