The Irish painter William Orpen was an official war artist during World War I, and was deeply affected by the horror of what he saw. He was also a very successful portrait painter to the rich and famous. It made him wealthy but destroyed his reputation with the critics, who considered he had done all his best work during his youth.
Orpen had come to London to study at the Slade, where he became friends with Augustus John. He joined the New English Art Club and was exposed to new developments in painting coming from France. He became very interested in techniques of earlier painters like Velázquez and Rembrandt and developed a very refined painting style.
Homage To Manet (1908) was a group portrait of friends from the New English Art Club having tea under a gilt-framed Manet painting. It was an explicit reference to the influences that brought them together. By contrast Zonnebeke (1918) is an eerie landscape with dead bodies painted while in the trenches. The formal technique underlines the horror of what is being shown.
For his war work, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in the 1918 King's Birthday Honours.
Thumbnail credit: William Orpen, Self Portrait (detail), c.1917, oil on panel, IWM (Imperial War Museums)