Bonhams to auction painting by Walter Osborne

Walter Frederick Osborne R.H.A, R.O.I (1859-1903) was the most important Irish artist of his generation, and a wonderful example of his work, Feeding the chickens (1884-85), is to be offered for auction as part of the 19th Century Paintings sale on Wednesday 11th July 2012, at Bonhams 101 New Bond Street, London. The oil painting has attracted a pre-sale estimate of £500,000-700,000.

Charles O’Brien, Head of Bonhams 19th Century Paintings Department, comments, “Osborne was at the height of his career when he created this work. It is a remarkable example of the dramatic change that Irish painting underwent towards the end of the 19th Century, with artists increasingly being influenced by movements in continental Europe.”

From the mid 1880s–1890 Osborne regularly visited many small towns, villages and harbors in England. He observed numerous rural scenes and frequently painted the locals at work tending livestock, feeding chickens, plowing the fields and other country work, perhaps influenced by his knowledge of 19th century European Realist painting. Feeding the chickens is mentioned in a letter that Osborne wrote to his father while he was working in the small village of North Littleton, near Stratford on Avon in Worcestershire. The letter is accompanied by a pencil sketch of the composition, and the artist writes that he is “pretty far advanced on a kit-cat of a girl feeding fowl in a sort of farmyard….” The portrayal of children in a rural setting would have been a familiar theme to the young artist and it is widely echoed in works by many of his contemporaries such as Alexander Stanhope Forbes and Nathaniel Hill.

Osborne studied at the Antwerp Academy in 1881 and 1882, and worked in Brittany the following year before returning to Ireland to pursue a career as an artist. It was in France that he developed his naturalistic style of Impressionist landscape painting for which he was to make such a name for himself. He continued to travel regularly and he exhibited widely in both Dublin and London. He was elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy and New English Art Club in London from 1887. Tragically he died prematurely from pneumonia at the age of 43, when many consider him to have been on the brink of maturity as an artist.

“Osborne fuses traditional and modernist influences in this work, and the result is arguably one of the outstanding examples of plein-air painting from this exciting period. It’s atmospheric palette, dappled sunlight and sumptuous textures and tones combine to make it a highly desirable work by a very well respected and admired artist, so we expect there to be considerable interest”, says Charles O’Brien.

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