Known as the “Irish Impressionist, Walter Frederick Osborne was Dublin’s foremost 19th Century portrait painter and a leader in the Impressionist movement in Ireland. His beautiful naturalistic depiction of a mother cat and her two kittens (see page 258 in Caticons) showcases his remarkable talent. One can almost feel the fuzziness of the wee black fluffball of a kitten in the center. The soft shimmering light suffuses the entire scene with a warm glow and peaceful feeling.
Born the son of animal painter William Osborne, Walter Frederick Osborne took his first art lessons from his father before attending the Royal Hibernian Academy (similar to the Royal Academy in London). Like his father, Walter Osborne was a master at depicting animals. Walter continued to refine his skills painting landscapes and farmyards en plein air in Brittany and studying with naturalist painters in England experimenting with color and light.
Scenes of children feeding animals proved to be a favorite subject. I used to have one such work of a young servant girl tenderly feeding a cat, entitled “The New Arrival.” The title indicates to me others have come before to be ministered to by this generous girl who is probably sharing her own meager meal with the cat. Osborne’s sympathy for both the raggedly dressed girl and the hungry cat she is cradling is absolutely moving. (I am including an image of it below.) Selling that painting is one of my few regrets.
Osborne was obviously a kind and generous person himself, as he left his career in France and England to returned to Dublin in 1882 to help his elderly parents and orphaned niece. A turning point for him, the focus of his work shifted from rural French and English landscapes to Dublin street scenes and society portraiture for which he is most famous and successful. His technique also changed becoming more impressionistic, as he adopted a direct painting approach, a brighter palette and loose, painterly brushwork.
A member of numerous artistic societies including the New English Art Club and Dublin Art Club, as well as an Academician and teacher with the Royal Hibernian Academy, he exhibited his work at the Royal Academy in London, the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin, and the Paris Éxposition Universelle of 1900 where he won a bronze medal for a portrait. Revered by his contemporaries, he was offered a knighthood in recognition of his contribution to Irish art.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!