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Sotheby's to re-launch Irish Art sales in London; Sale includes important nude by William Orpen
Sir William Orpen, Nude Girl Reading. Estimate: £300,000-500,000 (€420,000-700,000). Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby'’s is to re-launch Irish Art sales in London on 21 October 2015. Highlighting the forthcoming auction is Nude Girl Reading, one of Sir William Orpen’s most sensational nudes. Estimated at £300,000-500,000 (€420,000-700,000), the work was last seen on the market thirty years ago. Ahead of the auction, Sotheby’s will open its new premises in Dublin at 29 Molesworth Street on 27 June 2015, moving from the company’s previous location opposite at 16 Molesworth Street.

Arabella Bishop, Head of Sotheby’s Ireland, commented: “Sotheby’s was the first international auction house to hold sales of Irish art, in 1995. Over the last couple of years, interest has increased and we have seen new collectors, not only from Ireland but internationally, actively buying and bidding in this field. We anticipate that the market for Irish art will continue to gather pace and feel that the moment is right to re-launch an annual dedicated sale. We are also thrilled to be opening our new 1,350 square-foot office in Dublin. This larger space, with excellent private viewing facilities, further cements our commitment to the Irish market.”

William Orpen’'s Nude Girl Reading
William Orpen was an artist who enjoyed success and notoriety in equal measure, and the sitter for Nude Girl Reading, painted circa 1921 in Paris, was Orpen's lover, Yvonne Aubicq, the daughter of the Mayor of Lille. Orpen's audacious depiction of the woman with whom he had fallen in love would not have gone unnoticed; however, Yvonne herself had acquired fame overnight through an ingenious piece of subterfuge masterminded by the artist.

As an Official War Artist, Orpen passed off his two earliest pictures of Yvonne as portraits of the fictitious Frieda Neiter, a German spy, in order to justify the paintings to the War Office. The story cast Yvonne as a beautiful Hungarian who was caught and sentenced to be shot. On the cold, grey morning of her execution in the courtyard of a French château, Frieda was granted a final request. She chose to pick out her own costume for the occasion and returned wearing a blue velvet coat. As the officer in charge of the execution counted, 'one-two-', she dropped the coat and stood naked before the firing squad. The dramatic account of her death was published in England and America, and even after the truth emerged that Frieda/Yvonne was alive and well, and in fact Orpen's mistress, for the British public Frieda became a legendary figure, and by extension, Yvonne’s fame was secured. In 1919, after the war, the two paintings – both known as The Refugee and now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum – were exhibited in America, conspicuously on view alongside Orpen's portraits of Field Marshalls and Generals.

Nude Girl Reading belongs to a small and important group of nudes by Orpen for which Yvonne modelled in the 1920s. Their affair continued until 1928 and although it ended unhappily, Orpen made her a generous settlement. He also gave her his black Rolls-Royce, together with his chauffeur Charles Grover-Williams, who Yvonne subsequently married.

During World War II, Yvonne had the opportunity to perform some real-life derring-do, when she and Charles formed part of a small unit known as ‘Chesnut’, operating for the Resistance just outside Paris.

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