Grace and William Orpen were married in 1901, and the happiness of their early years together is beautifully conveyed in this intimate painting. Night (no. 2) is one of a group of paintings and drawings made by this prominent Irish artist in 1907, which can be categorized as domestic nocturnes. Their setting was described by John Rothenstein, Orpen’s nephew, in his Modern English Painters 1952 as
the small house, long since demolished, in Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, in which the little rooms resembled, in their subdued light and the polished high-lit quality of their furnishings, [Orpen’s] own early ‘interiors’.
Common to all the works in this group is the centrally placed vertical window, through which we glimpse a dark London sky. Orpen does not convey any sense of oppressiveness, claustrophobia or melancholy; but rather, an atmosphere of domestic bliss. While Grace appears in most of these paintings, in Night (no. 2) Orpen has also included himself. The artist leans over his wife, as Grace arches up to meet him; and their forms meld together at the centre of the image, in an eternal kiss. The painting’s warm eroticism is a bold statement for the Edwardian times in which it was painted, reflecting the precocity and unconventionality that made Orpen one of the most fashionable and popular artists of his day.
Text by Dr Ted Gott from 20th century painting and sculpture in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 10.