Born in Dublin, William John Leech attended both the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and the Royal Hibernian Academy schools before moving in 1901 to Paris, where he enrolled at the famous Académie Julian. In 1903, he travelled to Concarneau, Brittany, a fishing port and artist's colony in which he produced some of his finest works, and to which he would return on several occasions.
He settled permanently in England in 1910, but continued to visit France until the outbreak of the Second World War, and to exhibit in Ireland.The Painting
The setting for William John Leech's A Convent Garden, Brittany is the garden of a hospital run by the Sisters of Holy Ghost (Les S˝urs du Saint-Esprit) in Corcarneau, where Leech was convalescing, having contracted typhoid in 1904.
The painting reflects the interest in the religious devotion of the Breton community that Leech shared with many visiting artists, but also the artist's vigorous technique and love of sunlight. The model for the figure was Leech's first wife Elizabeth Saurine Kerlin, wearing the traditional Breton wedding dress and starched lace coiffe donned by novices before they took their final vows.
Elizabeth appears in many of Leech's works of this period. Carefully conceived to demonstrate the artist's technical skill, the painting was shown at the Paris Salon in 1913.