Important Australian + International Fine Art
16 April 2008

Charles Conder

(1868 - 1909)

watercolour on silk

76.5 x 127.0 cm (irregular)

signed lower left: CONDER

$20,000 - 30,000
Sold for $38,400 (inc. BP) in Auction 4 - 16 April 2008, Melbourne

Mrs Thomas Crossland, England
Arthur Crossland, England
The Estate of Pro Hart, Broken Hill, New South Wales


Special Exhibition of Modern Paintings and Drawings, location unknown, 1939 (label attached verso)

Catalogue text

Like so many of Charles Conder's watercolours, Ladies on the Terrace evokes a time of transient beauty, of fair youth soon faded and past. These delicate watercolours painted on silk first appeared in the early 1890s. They reflect the mood and taste of their time, of the indulgence of the fin-de-siècle and its fascination with artifice. In Paris, Symbolism and Art Nouveau were the fashion, allied to nostalgic reminiscences of the Rococo.

In this and other works, Conder conjured up an imagined world of eighteenth-century Europe, of elegant fashion enveloped in the lyrical music of Mozart, an age of delicacy, stylish in manner. As fragile as gossamer, they won him fame, peopled with gallants and paramours, characters from the commedia dell' arte, so popular in nineteenth-century Paris. Ann Galbally writes of his admiration of Watteau and its presence in his work: 'He created a world of exquisitely dressed figures in idyllic landscapes strolling or conversing in groupings reminiscent of the theatricalised arrangements of Watteau's fêtes galantes.'1

These works depicted a stylised world of decorative charm and elegance inhabited by flirtatious lovers and courtesans. More allegorical than narrative, Conder's watercolours touch on youth, beauty and death. The first of these watercolours to receive wide acclaim was The Blue Bird, 1895, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, probably inspired by the Belgian symbolist playwright, Maurice Maeterlink. A similar accent of blue is echoed in Ladies on the Terrace, in the dress of the central figure and the blue waters beyond. The depiction of flowers, especially roses, is a further romantic touch, the red rose being an attribute of Venus, goddess of love.

In this world of delightful artifice, Conder extended his talent to painting on silk fans, garnitures for dresses, on cushions, silk panels for screens, curtains, wall decorations, and designs for costume balls and tableaux vivants. Silk was an ideal base for his watercolour inventions, providing a lightly textured surface and slight blurring of outline as the colour was absorbed by the fabric. This, in turn, gave his images a delicacy and subtlety aptly suited to the ideals and moods expressed.

1. Galbally, Anne, 'Paintings on silk', in Charles Conder, Ann Galbally and Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2003, p. 140