Study for ‘The Irish barmaid’

Born Melbourne, Australia 1918


Vic O’Connor was a passionate communist whose political beliefs underpinned all aspects of his life. He studied law at the University of Melbourne and attended Sunday afternoon painting classes at the George Bell School before being conscripted into the army in 1939.

O’Connor’s paintings of Melbourne’s working class in the 1940s and 1950s made him a prominent figure in the social realist movement, whose members included fellow politically radical artists Yosl Bergner and Noel Counihan. He became a major figure of the left wing of the Melbourne Contemporary Art Society in the early 1940s, a time when a bitter struggle was taking place for its control. Driven by a desire for revolutionary change in Australia’s art and ideas, O’Connor and other socialists battled for its direction with members of the Angry Penguins group, arguing that art’s purpose should be to bring about social change, which opposed the modernists’ ideals of artistic, intellectual and imaginative freedom.

In 1942 O’Connor shared the Contemporary Art Society Prize with Donald Friend, and was included in the exhibition Angry Penguins: Realist painting in Melbourne in the 1940s, Tate Liverpool, England (1988) and Classical Modernism: The George Bell Circle, National Gallery of Victoria (1992). His work is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, most state galleries, and several regional galleries and universities.