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Dermod O Brien was an accomplished painter in the academic tradition and a skilled and fluent draughtsman. A grandson of the Young Ireland leader William Smith O Brien, he resisted family pressure to enter a profession and instead chose to study painting. O Brien was a pupil at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Antwerp, from 1887-1891, at a time when it provided one of the most traditional academic training courses in Europe. This interior scene of one of the painting rooms provides a visual record of the method taught at the Antwerp Academy.
The pose adopted by the two young women was chosen to test the students’ ability to paint the relationship between figures. A young girl rests against her mother and the students carefully recreate the figure group as an exercise in developing their skill of observation and fluency in painting. The students’ expressions of concentration, as they constantly look to the model and back to their canvases, illustrate the arduous nature of this method of study. O Brien had a natural affinity with this practice and throughout his career remained strongly influenced by the academic training he had received at Antwerp.