Referred to as one of the greatest etchers of the 20th century, Louis Orr (c. 1876-1966) was a prolific American artist known for his mastery of etching and capturing architecture. Though he spent much of his time living and working in France, Orr took on many projects in the United States, including what would become one of the most significant of his career – a series of 51 etchings of North Carolina subjects. Brunk Auctions is pleased to present this series in its entirety, along with the original copper and steel plates, in our upcoming Premier and Emporium Auction this February 3rd – 4th, 2022.
Louis Orr was born in Hartford, Connecticut to a family of artists. In spite of his parents’ initial attempts to dissuade him from an artistic career, Orr went on to study at the Hartford Art School and the Académie Julian in Paris, France. His initial pursuits were in oil and watercolor painting, but he was ultimately unsatisfied with his progress and began experimenting with etching – the medium for which he would eventually become well-known. Following the outbreak of World War I and his enlistment in the French Army in 1917, Orr completed numerous etchings while on the front lines of battle. The work he produced during this period earned him an appointment to the French Legion of Honor, a place in history as the first living artist to have work acquired for the permanent collections of the Louvre, and widespread recognition thereafter as one of the most prominent artists in his field.
In 1927, during his time in Paris, Orr became acquainted with Robert Lee Humber, a North Carolinian lawyer and business executive with an interest in the arts, who proposed to the artist his concept for a project of 51 etchings depicting historical sites, buildings, and landmarks throughout the state of North Carolina. Humber’s vision was to preserve the heritage of the state in the hand of a master artist, and hoped to ensure that even institutions of limited means could afford the finished works. After several years of deliberation, in June of 1939 Orr finally agreed to take on the project, and spent the next twelve years dedicated to capturing the architecture and geography of the state. Most of the nearly 8,000 etchings produced were sold in albums of five, while 91 complete sets were purchased – several of which are held by various Southern museums, libraries, and universities.
Orr’s technical skill is especially evident in this series of etchings, displaying a superb level of detail utilized to fully capture his subjects, which range from government and university buildings to private homes. In Humber’s words, Orr was “a draftsman of impeccable fidelity to the minutiae of detail” and “a master of luminosity” who possessed “an unrivaled technique for interpreting texture, whether it be wood, brick or stone, especially the mellowed patina that comes with ageless beauty.” Summarizing the artist’s ability, he notes: “It may be said that Mr. Orr does not make a drawing of a building but a portrait and endows it with personality and enduring life.”
Brunk Auctions will offer the 51 etchings as independent lots, as well a grouping of several other works by Orr. The February Premier and Emporium Auction will begin on February 3rd at 9:00 A.M. EST.