Arthur Power (Guernsey, 1891—Leopardstown, Co. Dublin, 1984), is perhaps best known today for his book Conversations with James Joyce, but he also painted well into old age and was art critic for the Irish Times.
Power was the son of a major in the British army who, like Eileen Gray’s brother, died in the Boer War. Power spent much time on the large estate of his uncle in South Kilkenny and Waterford during his youth, and again while recovering from being gassed in Flanders during the First World War. After having witnessed the Easter Rising in Dublin and narrowly avoided being shot, Power stayed in the West for a while in 1917 before coming back to his mother’s place at 21, Fitzwilliam Place in Dublin. It was in Dublin in 1918 that he met Paul Henry, who was then living close by in Merrion Row and whose recounting of his experiences as an art student in Paris persuaded Power to move to the French capital “for intellectual adventures, adventures of the mind”.
Power changed address a few times during the 1920s. In 1925, he was living in a room at the Hôtel de Béarn at 123, rue Saint Dominique (7th arrondissement). Described by Power as “an old-fashioned hotel” and “dilapidated” even though it suited his tastes “for it gave to me the flavour of the ancient regime”, the Hôtel de Béarn is now classed as a historic monument and houses the Rumanian embassy. Power describes that when he was living there, he received a visit from an Englishman called Crayshaw and his girlfriend, who were on their way to visit Aleister Crowley (“the so-called devil worshipper and master of black-magic”) in Sicily. The girlfriend insisted on organising “an astral journey” and entering into contact with the spirit world. In the presence of a sceptic like Power, the séance was not a success. But before leaving, the English pair insisted on covering the furniture “with protective signs in chalk to shield one against the evil influence of certain spirits”. However, the hotel owner quickly got wind of the aborted attempt at spiritualism and was so aghast that such “evil practices” had taken place there that he evicted Power, threatening to call the police if he did not leave at once. Power took this as par for the course, for, as he says so appositely, “the average French are very conservative and narrow-minded—concierges and hotel proprietors in particular.”
In 1981, Power published some relatively salacious extracts from his diary in the Irish Times. In contrast to the impression of a man entirely devoted to art and literature purveyed in his memoirs, From the Old Waterford House, the diary extracts suggest that whoring and fleeting encounters with a variety of women took up much of Power’s time in Paris. Power describes in some detail his adventure with a girl freshly arrived from Dieppe to seek her fortune. Deep-chested and handsome, she was as ardent as I was,” he writes, but after a few love-making sessions in cheap hotels, Power decides that “she was stupid in a way and had no geist.” Power also mentions regular meetings at the Dôme on the Boulevard de Montparnasse with a man called Henshaw, who had been a journalist on the Irish Times. Henshaw and Power compared their experience of brothels in the Monto in Dublin and the far more sophisticated equivalents in Paris. Power mentions that when he was a 17-year-old virgin and on his way back from his studies in Germany, he visited a richly decorated maison close in a bourgeois district of Paris. “I cannot say that my first love-making, even though I still remember it as something of importance in my life, came up to my great expectations.” But it was the memory of the “golden-domed room” and the choice he had been presented with on entering the brothel between a “galaxy of naked beauty” that made him “disillusioned and even hostile to the sordid surroundings” that he came upon in the Monto back in Dublin.
Conversations with James Joyce (1974, reprint 1999)
From the Old Waterford House (1940, reprint 2003)
"An Irish Artist in Paris, 1925—Extracts from a Journal",
Arthur Power in The Irish Times, Jan. 31 and Feb. 7, 1981