Walter Osborne (1859-1903) was twenty-five when he wrote this letter to his father, William Osborne (1823-1901), from the small village of North Littleton, near Stratford-Upon-Avon in England. He was on a painting trip with fellow artist Nathaniel Hill (1861-1934). Osborne was among a number of Irish artists (Hill included), during the late-nineteenth-century, that left Ireland to study painting at the Academie Royal Antwerp before furthering their training in Brittany. Encouraged to work outdoors and to paint directly from life, Osborne developed a Realist style and sought out subject matter from everyday life.
Painting in Worcestershire
Osborne made his first painting trip to England in 1884, visiting the village of North Littleton in Worcestershire. In this letter, he tells his father that he has finished a picture ‘of two boys in a yard looking at an apple tree and an old woman in a doorway watching them’. He is also ‘pretty far advanced on a kit-cat of a girl feeding fowl’. This painting, entitled Feeding the Chickens, is considered a major work by the artist. Osborne admits to some difficulties, particularly with the rendering of the chickens, which are ‘very troublesome’. He includes a delicately realised drawing of the composition that features much of the detail of the finished painting. Rendered in short and controlled vertical pencil strokes, his technique reflects the ‘square-brush’ painting style that was popular among Realist painters.
The Young Metropolitan
The letter conveys aspects of Osborne's personality and character. He jokes about the ‘very aristocratic’ name of his model, which coincidentally is ‘Osborne’. Viewing himself ‘as a person of metropolitan experience’, he views the local people as ‘quaint’ and ‘aboriginal in their ideas about painting’. He adds that painters ‘never trouble about politics’.
Donal Maguire, Curator ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art
Published online: 2022