Sunday, 22 May 2016


“Voluptuaries, consumed by their senses, always begin by flinging themselves with a great display of frenzy into an abyss. But they survive, they come to the surface again. And they develop a routine of the abyss: ‘It’s four o clock. At five I have my abyss...’“ - Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

For Art Sunday today, an Anglo-Australian artist, Charles Conder (1868-1909). Charles Conder, or ‘K’ as he was known to his friends, was the third of five children and was born on 24 October 1868 at Tottenham, Middlesex, England. He was a direct descendant of the great 18th-century sculptor Roubiliac.

In 1884 he emigrated to Australia, coming to Sydney to work for his uncle, a surveyor, but he gave this up for art. He mainly painted landscapes at this time and was influenced by Tom Roberts, whom he met in Melbourne, where Conder lived from 1888 to 1890 and was active in the Heidelberg School, the famous group of Australian Impressionists.

He returned to Europe, briefly visiting England before moving to Paris, where he studied at the Académie Julian and became part of a circle of artists, including Anquetin, Bonnard, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901). He appears in two of Lautrec's paintings of the Moulin Rouge, and like Lautrec was notoriously dissipated; his friend William Rothenstein said he was ‘often without a sou, but…never without a lady’.

In 1897 Conder settled in London, but he made frequent visits to Dieppe and Paris. His work was seen in numerous exhibitions, including one-man shows, and he became a well-known figure in the art world, but he fell seriously ill in 1906 from syphilis and stopped painting.

He is best known for landscapes, arcadian fantasies, and painted fans; Frank Rutter wrote that ‘As a water-colour painter on silk, as the creator of the most exquisite fans, Conder not only had no rival in his life-time, but no superior in the past or the present’. He also painted portraits and made a few lithographs and etchings.

In December 1891 Conder travelled to Mustapha near Algiers to recuperate from illness in a friend’s garden villa overlooking the sea. He was inspired to paint the gardens and views of Mustapha overlooking terraces and the Bay of Algiers. His Algerian pictures inaugurated a new sensitivity to symbolist colour and mood in his art. Later, Conder would suggest harem themes in some of his imagery and titles of his decorative paintings on silk panels.

His work, which is well represented in Tate, is often tinged with a feeling of fin de siècle decadence. He was influenced by Whistler, but Rothenstein commented that ‘Whistler never liked Conder and didn’t care for his work…He probably thought him too involved with his ladies of Montmartre, too fond of his absinthe.’

The painting above is “The Blue Sofa”, Oil on Canvas 86 x 112 cm painted in 1905. It depicts three voluptuous young women on a terrace quite relaxed and intent on doing nothing at all except looking, well, voluptuous. Conder’s weakness for the Bohemian lifestyle and his fondness for young, beautiful women comes to the fore in paintings such as these, which are so different to his Australian landscapes, for which he is better known here in Australia.

1 comment:

  1. Love the Colette quote. I am one who prefers Conder's landscapes.Sorry cannot comment... off to have an abyss:)Will be definitely using that one in a poem. Thanks !