image: Delegates sitting and standing around a table. Behind them is a highly ornate and gilded room with chandeliers, cherubs, and a statue of Victory above the fireplace.
This painting was one of three paintings by William Orpen made in answer to Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s demand for an artistic commemoration of the Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919. The disbanding of the Ministry of Information’s war art scheme in 1918 meant the onus of commissioning fell upon the Imperial War Museum. They approached Orpen hoping that in light of his recent donation of his wartime oeuvre his services could be secured for free. Orpen considered the assembled Allied politicians vain and greedy and the painting exhibits his contempt by having them dwarfed by their palatial surroundings. Left to right (seated): Signor Orlando (Italy); Mr. Robert Lansing, President Woodrow Wilson (United States); M Georges Clemenceau (France); Mr D Lloyd George, Mr A Bonar Law, Mr Arthur J Balfour (Great Britain); left to right (standing): M Paul Hymans (Belgium); M Eleutherios Venizelos (Greece); The Emir Feisal (Syria); Mr W F Massey (New Zealand); General Jan Smuts (South Africa); Col E M House (United States); General Louis Botha (South Africa); the Marquis Saionzi (Japan); Mr W M Hughes (Australia); Sir Robert Borden (Canada); Mr G N Barnes (Great Britain); M Ignace Paderewski (Poland)
The Paris Peace Conference in 1919 allowed the victorious Allied nations to resolve the end of the First World War, to apportion blame and financial responsibility and to demand reparations from Germany. It also addressed wider issues such as forming the League of Nations and the creation of new nation states. Complex negotiations tried to match public desire for reparations to Germany’s willingness and ability to pay. William Orpen was commissioned to paint three canvases to record the roles of the politicians, diplomats and military. In monetary terms, this was the most important British painting commission of the war, worth £3000.
Imperial War Museum commission