Orpen, Richard Francis Caulfeild (1863–1938), architect and painter, was born 24 December 1863, the eldest of four sons and two daughters of Arthur Herbert Orpen, a solicitor, of Oriel, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, and Anne Orpen (née Caulfeild), daughter of Revd Charles Caulfeild (1804–62), bishop of Nassau, Bahamas. The painter William Orpen (qv) was his youngest brother. Richard was educated (1876–81) at St Columba's college, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, where his drawings appeared in the Columban magazine, and graduated with a BA from TCD (1885). While still a student at St Columba's he published an Irish comic alphabet for the present times (1881), a mixture of verse and cartoons expressing his unionist view of landlordism, Charles Stewart Parnell (qv), and the home-rule movement. Keen to pursue a career as a painter, owing to familial reasons he became an architect instead, spending eleven years in the office of Thomas Drew (qv), first as a pupil, then as managing assistant (1885–92). He began to attend (c.1884) the annual excursions of the English Architectural Association, thereby developing his drawing skills. Establishing his own architectural practice in Drew's offices at 22 Clare St., Dublin (c.1890), he moved office to 7 Leinster St. in 1896. Elected a member of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) in 1888, he became a council member (1902–10), honorary secretary (1903–5), and president (1914–17). He designed the institute's official seal in 1909. Finding his chief work among the country's resident gentry, Orpen was described in 1904 by the Irish Builder as the ‘originator of the bungalow in Ireland’.
Beginning to exhibit at the RHA in 1888, Orpen showed watercolours and architectural drawings there till 1936. Collaborating on several projects with Percy French (qv), he illustrated Racquetry rhymes (1888), a parody on the craze for tennis, and The first lord liftinant and other tales (1890), a collection of farcical stories including ‘The rout of Rathmines’. He also associated with French by providing cartoons for The Jarvey (1889–90), a periodical described as having a ‘gentrified humour’. Orpen's architectural illustrations appeared in H. Goldsmith Whitton's Handbook of the Irish parliament houses. . . (1891). An original member of the Architectural Association of Ireland, he was made its first president in 1896, and a vice-president in 1910. After the fire at St Columba's in 1896, he was employed as the college architect (1897–1938), and also became a fellow; the college sanatorium was known as the Orpen building. Honorary secretary in 1895 of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland, he was a committee member in 1904, and again in 1917 when he helped organise its fifth exhibition. He was one of the founders of the Arts Club in 1906. Moving his architectural practice to 13 South Frederick St., in the same year (1906) he moved residence from Blackrock to a house of his own design, Coologe, Carrickmines, Co. Dublin. In 1907 he exhibited chalk drawings, such as ‘On the edge of a bog’, at the Irish International Exhibition, Dublin. He designed the cover of The Abbey row, not edited by W. B. Yeats (1907), a pamphlet that caricatured the Abbey Theatre publication The Arrow and the riots following the first production there of ‘The playboy of the western world’ by J. M. Synge (qv). At the opening of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art on Harcourt St., Dublin, in 1908, Orpen unveiled a bust of Hugh Lane (qv) designed by Albert Power (qv). A member of the original municipal gallery committee, Orpen was made its honorary secretary by Lane. Becoming architect to Christ Church cathedral in 1910, he was also architect to St Canice's cathedral, Kilkenny, and to St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin. Elected an associate of the RHA (1911) and a full member (1912), he later served as the academy's secretary (1925–37). He exhibited with the Water Colour Society of Ireland at Leinster Hall, Dublin, in 1912.
For four years (1910–14) Orpen was in an architectural partnership with Page Dickinson, with whom in 1913 he drew up plans for conversion of the old Turkish baths at Lincoln Place as the new Dublin municipal gallery; after the plans were rejected by Lane, Orpen refused to collaborate with Lane's choice of architect for the gallery design, Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869–1944). Appointed a guardian of the NGI in 1914, Orpen lectured on architectural history at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (1914–15). He designed the architectural setting for the bronze relief ‘Mourning Victory’, a memorial to the members of the Royal Irish Regiment killed in the South African war, sculpted by Beatrice Campbell, Lady Glenavy (qv), and placed in the yard of Clonmel barracks, Co. Tipperary. A designer of many memorials, he was architect for the war memorial scheme at Rathgar methodist church in 1924. President of the arts and crafts section at the RDS, he was a governor of the Royal National Hospital for Consumption for Ireland, located in Newcastle, Co. Wicklow.
He married (1900) Violet Caulfeild, a daughter of Col. Robert Caulfeild, of Camolin House, Co. Wexford; they had no children. Both Orpen and his wife were descended, through separate cadet branches, from William Caulfeild (qv) (d. 1671), 1st viscount Charlemont; in Orpen's case, the line of descent was through his mother. He died at Coologe on 27 March 1938, and was buried in Dean's Grange cemetery. Seán Keating (qv) placed Orpen's portrait in his painting ‘Homage to Sir Hugh Lane’ alongside such literary personalities as George Russell (qv) and William Butler Yeats (qv). A portrait of Richard Orpen by his brother William is held in St Columba's College. A stained glass window in St Columba's, created in Orpen's memory by Catherine O'Brien (qv), contains the arms of the Orpen family and four medallions depicting several of the college buildings that he designed.