O'Connor, John (1830–89), painter, was born 12 August 1830 in Co. Londonderry, third son of Francis O'Connor and Rose O'Connor (née Cunningham) of Bath. He was orphaned at the age of 12 and went to live with his uncle, who held the lease of the Liverpool and Belfast theatres; O'Connor initially worked as a call-boy in the Belfast theatre, before becoming an assistant scene-painter. In 1842 he worked in the Theatre Royal in Dublin, painting scenery for Sir E. Tierney and the earl of Bective. He then worked for a travelling company (1845), but the tour was unsuccessful and for a while he put on silhouette shows to earn a living. In April 1848 he travelled to London, where he worked as a scene-painter at the Drury Lane and Haymarket theatres before returning to Ireland in 1849 to record Queen Victoria's visit in a series of sketches. On returning to London he was commissioned by Philip Phillips to work up his sketches, and painted ‘Diorama of the queen's visit’, which was exhibited at the Chinese Gallery.
He was by now established as a theatrical scene-painter and had built up a considerable reputation for the quality of his drop-scenes. His most notable were a ‘View of Windsor castle’ at the Manchester theatre and the ‘Minuet’ at the Haymarket. In 1853 he began exhibiting pictures at the Suffolk St. gallery, London, and later exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institute. He was appointed drawing master at the London and South-Western Literary and Scientific Institution (1855–8) and became principal scene-painter at the Haymarket in 1863. In 1864 he painted the scenery for the Shakespeare tercentenary performances at Stratford-on-Avon. He travelled extensively, visiting Spain and Italy, while also visiting France during the Franco–German war, publishing his impressions of Sedan in the journal The Dark Blue. During these travels he drew a large number of sketches, especially of architectural subjects, and many of these were later worked up into full canvases. A favourite painter of the royal family, he did drawings on several court subjects including ‘The marriage of Princess Louise and the marquis of Lorne’ (1871) and ‘The thanksgiving service in St Paul's’ (1872).
In 1872, in partnership with Lord Ronald Gower, he established a studio at 47 Leicester Square, the former residence of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Concentrating on architectural and landscape painting, he left the Haymarket in 1878 although he still took theatrical commissions and painted scenery for the Cambridge Amateur Dramatic Club, of which he was a member. He was an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy of the Arts and exhibited several paintings at the academy between 1875 and 1888, including ‘On the Thames near Charing Cross: a November evening’ (1879) and ‘Entrance to the fish market, Vicenza’ (1883). In 1888 he exhibited three paintings at the Irish exhibition in London, including ‘St Peter's, Rome: as seen from the Vatican gardens’. In failing health, he travelled to India to visit his two sons in 1888 but died shortly after his return, 23 May 1889, at Heathcroft, Yateley, Hampshire. He was buried in Finchley cemetery. He was married twice and had two sons from each marriage. There are examples of his work in the Ulster Museum, the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and the British Museum. He presented one of his paintings, ‘Old York gate’ (1861), to the NGI.