Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Francis Joseph O'Meara



This was painted by the famous portraitist, John Singer Sergeant who was his contemporary and among his social circle.

Francis Joseph O'Meara was born on 30 March, 1853 in Carlow, Ireland. The son of Dr. Thomas O'Meara, he was probably educated at Knockbeg College.  He left for Paris c.1872-73 where he would study under the French painter  Carolus-Duran. In 1875 he visited the artists colonies in Barbizon and Grez-sur-Loing. He spent eleven years at Greg-sur-Loing in the forest of Fontainebleau.  O'Meara was a popular member of the group and his contemporises including Laverty (Irish) Slott (English), Harrison (American) and Lasson (Swedish) acknowledge his considerable influence on the artistic fraternity. He painted portraits, landscapes but mostly figures in landscape.  In 1880 he did a series of figures of single women beside the waters edge with the haunting titles "Evening", "Twilight", "Towards Night and Winter", "October", "November", "The Widow". His paintings were included in exhibitions in Paris, London, Liverpool and Glasgow.  Among O'Meara's fellow students were American John Singer Sargent.  O'Meara's reputation was far greater in France and Glasgow during his lifetime than in Ireland.

Birthplace and Family Home of Frank O'Meara at 37 Dublin Street, Carlow. The relevant house can be identified as the premises called "Royal Insurance". This photograph was taken circa 1970's. O'Meara also died here in 1888 at the early age of 35 years with his father Dr. Thomas O'Meara present at his death.

Source of Image: Carlow County Library

Until recently, O'Meara has almost been forgotten, and one wonders if his achievement was exaggerated by his friends, for he belongs very much to this fin-de-siecle period, and artists from all over Europe were painting 'poetic landscapes' neither fully naturalistic, nor truly Symbolist. Moreover, O'Meara was by no means the first foreign artist to paint at Barbizon and Grez. However, he was one of the first of a younger generation to settle in the country, linking two generations of students; the group from Carolus-Duran's in the 1870's with those in the eighties, thus gaining a certain status among younger artist. As an early exponent of plein-airism, depicting figure in landscape and combining tonal value with decorative effect, O'Meara was one of the forerunners of the 'Glasgow School' style.

'Toward's Night', O'Meara's best-known painting, is a fine example of contemporary plein airism as practiced at Grez. The absorption of the girl in burning leaves on the river-bank of the Loing and the 'twilight' atmosphere are characteristic of O'Meara. There are the usual sedges by the little pool, an autumnal landscape and gray light, and in the background are the houses and dark rooftops of Grez reflected in the pool, which appear in pictures by Stott, Larsson and many other artists. The restricted palette green, red, brown, grey and silver and the pale tonality are typical of the artist. He applied his paints thinly and did not use the square-brush technique favoured by other plein-air painters.

In 1888 he returned to Ireland to visit his mother but died of malaria fever contracted in France.  An American artist, Birge Harrison remembers him "...Frank O'Meara, the handsome, debonair young Irishman who was to die before his great talent as a painter made its mark...."  He is buried in the family tomb in Bennekerry, Carlow.

One of Frank's ancestors, Barry O'Meara, was Napoleon's physician at St. Helena.

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2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects, IGP TM

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