Student & Teacher

Grace Gifford and William Orpen
Part of the Irish Archives

Gifford and Orpen

Grace Evelyn Gifford (1888-1955) was an Irish cartoonist, caricaturist, illustrator, and political activist. Born in Dublin in 1888, she attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art when she was sixteen years old. She studied under the celebrated Irish painter William Orpen (1878-1931) from 1904-07. Orpen, who had studied at the same school himself from 1891-97, taught there, part-time, between 1902 and 1914.

Based mostly in London, Orpen revolutionised art teaching at the Dublin art school, in the life drawing class, in particular, where he introduced nude models. Orpen was known to invest much time and care in his most hard-working students and greatly influenced the numerous artists that trained with him. This included Margaret Clarke (1884-1961), Seán Keating (1889-1977), and Grace Gifford, whom he deemed to be one of his most talented and promising pupils.

Gifford was a successful student and, like Orpen before her, won several prizes at the school in drawing from life. They developed a close friendship and Gifford was the subject of several works by Orpen, most notably his 1907 portrait Young Ireland, Grace Gifford. In this portrait Gifford is the personification of the growing confidence in Irish cultural identity that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century.

A lasting friendship

In this photograph, Gifford is seen holding her brush and pallet, perhaps still a student, with her teacher Orpen standing next to her. Both student and teacher look directly towards the camera for a picture that evokes the confident attitude of the young artist and her mentor.

Gifford and Orpen would soon part ways, however, as their lives lead them in different directions. With the beginning of the First World War, Orpen ceased travelling to Dublin. He enlisted in the British Army in December 1915 and was sent to France as an official war artist in 1917. Gifford became increasingly active in the Irish Republican movement and was arrested for her involvement in the Civil War and interned at Kilmainham Gaol in 1923. After the war, Orpen worked as a successful portraitist until his death in 1931. Following Irish independence, Gifford remained an active presence in Irish art, working primarily as an illustrator and caricaturist until her death in 1955.


By Donna Rose