John O'Connor studied at the Chelsea School of Art and the Slade School in London before becoming a lecturer in Perspective in several prestigious Art Colleges in the UK.
The titles of his published books (Lisbon in Profile, Portrait of the Douro, Cityscapes, Mondego Song and even his projected book on Sintra) read like a magical tour of Portugal.
When viewed, the watercolours take us into another world. We are spell-bound.
The world of Lisbon - as we can only imagine it - for today, tourists fill all the streets, every nook & cranny, cluster on every monument, selfie in hand to remember their own time in the capital – is, within the pages of John's book “Lisbon in profile”, open again for our eyes to see: not only Rossio, the Basilica da Estrela, Carmo, the Castelo Sao Jorge or the Jeronimos Monastery at Bélem – but more, so much more: the light that makes the capital of Portugal unique – reflected on the Silver Sea – ever changing, ever showcasing the many monuments and highlights of the city.
Alfama, watercolour 37 x 29 cm
Also the buildings as we shall never see them again because refurbishing and renovation has erased the traces of the past in Lisbon, as highlight by the author of the book’s preface, Professor Architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles.
John O'Connor was there and he saw and he painted the places so that we too should one day see. And understand where Lisbon has come from in the not so distant past – and today, where Lisbon is going to – in the not too distant future.
“Lisbon, with its being and non-being, with its meanders of astonishment and ...” wrote Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen in one of the poems that complement John's watercolour: Ferry on the Tagus.
Ferrry on the Tagus, watercolour 25 x 36 cm
Today, we are in Lisbon and through John's watercolours, we have indeed stepped into the past – into a historical building in Chiado – into the Grémio Literário.
Grémio Literário, watercolour 37 x 27 cm
The Upper floor houses a most prestigious Library à l'anglaise, bespectacled gentlemen sit in Club chairs, reading in napped silence, the Daily Newspapers. As Paulo Lowndes Marques remarked, a woman’s idea of what a gentleman’s club is like.
Downstairs, handsome young men, all with moustache, are active fencing in an area that saw the first exhibition of Modern Portuguese Art – that of Almada Negreiros in 1912.
In walks John O'Connor to remind, in his polite anglo-portuguese drawl, the handsome fencers:
- “Gentlemen, please – closing time. For Art is now to take precedent over Sport ...” And barely had the words escaped his mouth that a foil was thrust unto his throat:
“Inglês – Pray, what say you here?”
And John, rolling up his sleeves answered: “Hey you, come and fight like a man. I am unarmed, bare fisted, but will take you on ...”
“Gentlemen, Gentlemen” cried the Mestre de Esgrima.
At that moment the journalist Ruy Palma Carlos was coming down the stairs, witnessed the incident and the following day wrote an article about it.
Xabregas, watercolour 27 x 37 cm
Next we shall go up to the Douro region of Portugal and visit, through John's book of watercolour paintings “Portrait of the Douro” and with splendid posters of the region, some of the prestigious vineyards and estates that are still today owned by the Symington Family.
John O'Connor, in his book “Portrait of the Douro” and in his own words, will be with us again to tell the story.
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