Donated by LS D Brunicardi in 1932

William Conor, RHA, RUA, ROI (1881–1968)
Mixed media on paper, 44 x 34
The Ashmolean, Oxford; Brooklyn Museum, New York; ACNI; IMMA; Crawford Art Gallery; DCGHL; LCGA; Ulster Museum; NSPCI; UL; Waterford Municipal Art Collection; Butler Gallery
Martyn Anglesea, William Conor, The People’s Painter, Ulster Museum 1999; Judith Wilson, William Conor; The life and work of an Ulster Artist, Belfast 1981
No items found.
No items found.

Called ‘the People’s Painter’, William Conor spent over six decades recording the street life of Belfast. Conor studied design at the Belfast College of Art and worked as a lithographer before becoming a full-time artist. Despite time spent in Paris, London, Philadelphia and New York, he remained impervious to the influences of Modernism, and notwithstanding his considerable success as a portrait painter, he was committed to depicting the street singers, mill-girls, cinema queues and entertainers of his native city. His work was generally modest in scale. His style could be described as ‘soft’-realism, in that he tended to look at the brighter side of poverty, at the camaraderie and humour of the workers rather than to emphasize social deprivation. Conor was also a successful illustrator and costume designer, and, to the surprise of many of his admirers, was responsible for the largest mural painting in Ireland, Ulster Past and Present, on the walls of the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, 1932. He was a member of the RHA and RUA for which he acted as president from 1957–64. He was awarded an OBE in 1952, when he also received an honorary degree from Queen’s University, Belfast. In 1968, the year of his death, a Memorial exhibition was held at the ACNI gallery. Capt. Terence O’Neill, then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, read the oration at his funeral service. It is difficult to date this very finished and sensitive portrait of Miss Brunicardi, dressed in what might be the uniform of a nurse, as Conor’s style did not change very much throughout his career, and the dress and appearance of the sitter doesn’t add to the information we have. The subject, Miss Brunicardi, may have been either Maria or Laetitia Brunicardi, daughters of Sebastian Brunicardi and his wife Maria Hogg. Sebastian Brunicardi and later his son Dominick were architects who both held the office of Borough Surveyor for Clonmel. The family lived on Parnell Street, where records suggest that they had three children, Maria, Dominick and Laetitia. Maria Brunicardi was born in 1873 and so is probably too old to have been the sitter here, as she would have been about 40 by the time Conor came back to Ireland from Paris. Laetitia, possibly in her twenties when war broke out and many young women became nurses, may be the sitter in this image. Dominick Brunicardi, who moved to Dublin in 1911, fought in World War I and was awarded the Military Cross. The subject of the portrait could also be a daughter of his. Nellie ÓCleirigh , writing about the Knocknagow Bazaar and Fete, (1906) and the Marlfield Fete in aid of the Women’s National Health Association (1910), mentions the Misses Brunicardi as assisting at both events and possibly acting the part of the gypsy palmist, Madam Carmen Silvia. (O’Cleirigh, Nationalist Centenary Supplement, 1890 -1990, Clonmel 1990, p. 36)