William Dermod O’Brien, most frequently referred to as Dermod O’Brien, was born in the village of Foynes in County Limerick, Ireland. He is said to have attended Trinity College, Cambridge before travelling to European artistic centres such as Paris and Italy to study the paintings of the Old Masters. In 1887 the artist enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, where he later won a silver medal for drawing, before attending the Academie Julian in Paris in 1891. In 1894 O’Brien enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, during which time the artist exhibited with the Royal Academy in London and the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin. He relocated to Dublin in 1901, where he worked for some time as a portraitist.
Though commercially successful as a portrait painter, the artist was an accomplished landscape painter. His skill in depicting architectural elements and representing light and shadow is evident throughout his work. In 1907 O’Brien was elected a full Academician of the Royal Hibernian Academy and just three years later was elected President, a post he held until his death. His relationship with the RHA was long and enjoyable, and O’Brien during his tenure as President the artist served for several years as a teacher at the RHA School. O’Brien was a fervent supporter of Irish art, and acted as Govenor of the National Gallery for a number of years during which he helped to support an emerging generation of artists.