William Conor
Belfast Genre Painter, Portrait Artist: Biography, Paintings.

Belfast Mill Girls. 1907

William Conor OBE, RHA, RUA (1881–1968)

The Irish figure and portrait painter William Conor, noted for his sympathetic genre-paintings of working-class life in Ulster, was born in Belfast, the son of a wrought-iron worker. At the age of 10, the skill and dexterity of his chalk drawings was noticed by a teacher who arranged for him to attend the Government School of Design in Belfast.

After initially working as a commercial designer, William Conor was commissioned by the British wartime government to produce official records of soldiers and munitions workers.

Racing at Leopardstown

For a guide to genre artists
like William Conor, see:
Irish Genre Painters.

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In 1920, he moved to London where he met such artists as John Lavery and Augustus John. In 1921, he exhibited at the Royal Academy (RA) and continued showing at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). From 1918-1967, he exhibited more than 200 works at the RHA. He became an Associate RHA in 1938 and a full member in 1946. He focused on oil painting but executed a number of watercolours and crayon drawings.

In 1930, William Conor was one of the first Academicians when the Belfast Art Society was renamed the Ulster Academy of Arts. Two years later, he executed several mural commissions for Belfast Museum and Art Gallery. He showed at the Victor Waddington Galleries in 1944 and 1948.


In 1952, he was made OBE and in 1957 he was elected President of the Royal Ulster Academy (RUA) - an office he held for 7 years. He exhibited at Bell Gallery, Belfast in 1964, 1966 and 1967. Conor was also elected foundation member of the National Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers. In addition, he became the first Irish member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.


His paintings were widely shown during his lifetime. His solo exhibitions include:

1922 Grosvenor Galleries, London: "William Conor."
1968 Arts Council Northern Ireland, Belfast: "William Conor 1881-1968."
1999 Ulster Museum, Belfast: "William Conor- The People's Painter."

His group exhibitions include numerous Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) shows and numerous Oireachtas. His artworks are represented in several public collections, including:

- Ulster Museum, Belfast.
- Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.
- Limerick Gallery of Art.
- National Self Portrait Collection, University of Limerick.
- Water Colour Society of Ireland Collection, Limerick.

Most Expensive Painting By William Conor

The auction record for a work by William Conor was set in 2007, when his oil painting, entitled The Dublin Horseshow, was sold at Sotheby's, in London, for £192,000.

More Information About Visual Arts in Ireland

• For details of other artists and sculptors from Belfast, see: Irish Artists: Paintings and Biographies.
• For more about genre painters like William Conor, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For more about townscape and genre painting, see: Homepage.

History of Irish Art
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