Kathleen O’Connor of Paris, by West Australian author Amanda Curtin, introduced me to a woman and an artist I’d heard about only vaguely before.

Kathleen, or ‘Kate’ as she preferred to be called, was born in New Zealand and grew up in Fremantle. Her father, C.Y. O’Connor, is well known in Western Australia for his role in building major infrastructure projects, such as Fremantle harbour and the Coolgardie pipeline. But Kate spent most of her adult life working among the artists in Paris and London.

Amanda Curtin follows her progress as an artist through her long life (1876 to 1968), interspersing Kate’s story with her own experiences while researching it. The narrative builds a picture of a woman who was totally committed to her art, enduring many hardships for the sake of it. Descriptions of the paintings themselves, their background and their fate, take up quite a lot of the text.

While Kate’s sisters “married well” and sometimes came to her aid financially, she remained single. She was independent, bohemian, eccentric, in love with the life she made for herself in the artist community of Paris. When all that came to an end with the Nazi invasion of France during the war, she was devastated.

But she went on painting. Even in her late eighties, when she had finally returned to Perth due to ill health, she continued to paint. She held some of her most successful exhibitions then. It’s an interesting and inspiring story. (Published by Fremantle Press in 2018)

Below is an interview with Kathleen O’Connor from 1965, when she was almost ninety (audio only).

(This review first appeared in the September issue of my newsletter, The Scribbler. To receive monthly newsletters in your inbox, subscribe here.)

Kathleen O’Connor of Paris
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