James J. O'Donnell (after Caravaggio, 1595)
122 x 122 cm / 4' x 4'
147 x 147 cm / 4'10" x 4'10"
Oil on board
Signed lower right
A Private Collection, New York
Watson has referenced Caravaggio's Bacchus for the portrait of his patron, James J O'Donnell, who sat for the portrait in his suite at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
Caravaggio's portrait of Bacchus was the first painting produced for his patron, the Cardinal Del Monte in 1595. A confluence of culture over four centuries on, sees Watson's patron, a modern day Bacchus, engaged with the God of fine wines and good living. Mr O'Donnell raises his glass in a toast with Bacchus with unmistakable admiration and the hint of a knowing smile.
This is a painting of opposites - a common element in Watson's art - the informality of Bacchus' attire is offset by the ultimate formality of Mr O'Donnell's black-tie. Watson choice of a red silk scarf blends the contrasts together, and provides an important counter balance to the painting. Both artists are renowned for their exquisite rendering of fabric, and in a subtle nod to Watson's Australian heritage, Mr O'Donnell's dress shirt is buttoned with opals.
Each is dressed in a manner of costume suited to the convivial nature of their personalities. A depiction of each subject, that both locates them in their relevant centuries, but also gives them a timeless allure. The dark chocolate background behind Bacchus's elaborate head dress is offset by the lightened background behind Mr O'Donnell, making him appear to glow in the manner that saints were often painted during the renaissance.
Evident in the centre of the painting is a wonderful juxtaposition contrasting the change over time of glassware, Mr O'Donnell's hands, depicted truthfully in robust life-size with a contemporary vessel, in contrast to the slender and elegant fingers of Bacchus with a delicate crystal glass, but it is the wine they share which binds them.
The foreground of the painting contains elements that integrate the subjects further. Has Bacchus just filled Mr O'Donnell's glass from the Vessel to the left? Are they celebrating news that may be contained in the envelope to the right? What is the significance of the envelope? Is it a secret communication between the artist and patron, or someone else? Only Messers Watson and O'Donnell know, or could share.
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