Tag Archives: Charles Conder

A room decorated by Conder

1982. An estate agent’s brochure announces the sale of a large property in North Kensington just off Holland Park Avenue. The brochure speaks of a room with “polished satinwood panels painted in the style of Charles Conder”.  The artist seemed of less interest to the writer of the brochure than the fact that the club had been used in the filming of the TV series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which we were all glued at the time but of which I now recall nothing) The asking price, if you’re interested was £650,000. (The picture below is more of a side view.)

Chestertons 1982 p01

The Knights of St Columba were selling their London club house. The Knights were a Catholic fraternal organisation for men. A KSC brochure from 1971 describes the facilities for members. Many bedrooms, a chapel, rooms for conferences and meetings, a bar

KSC Club 1971 p4-5 - Copy

The brochure is fairly clear that one of the rooms was called the Conder room – presumably because the paintings in it were by Conder.

KSC Club 1971 p6-7 - Copy

That section of wooden paneling in the centre of the picture is what you should be looking at, although it’s impossible to make out much detail.

Why the estate agents were cautious in their assessment is not clear. We are quite sure that Conder did decorate a room for the then owner of the house, a wealthy art collector and patron named Edmund Davis who was born in Australia and made a fortune in mining in southern Africa.

You can see an invitation to a fancy dress ball at the house in my previous post on Conder.  Davis had commissioned the architect F W Marshall to create an arts and crafts house at 11-13 Lansdowne Road in 1896. The house was covered by the Architectural Review in 1914.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 plate IX - Copy

The rooms are cool and austere in these pictures which look as if they belong to a palace rather than a large Victorian town house.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 p39 - Copy (3)

Even the roof has an exotic look, like a hidden temple.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 p39 - Copy (2)

Below is the Conder room. You can make out a few more of Conder’s pictures and get a better sense of the size of the space.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 plate X Conder room

Another angle on the room  matches the picture from the 1971 brochure although the comparison does not favour the later version.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 p39 - Conder room

This is described as a recess in the Conder room in the 1914 article.

I’ve spent a little while getting us to this point partly because the research was interesting in itself but also because I wanted to ground Conder’s pictures in historical reality. Now we have now reached what I thought of as the substance of this post and we can have a look at several of Conder’s watercolours painted on silk. Fortunately the Studio magazine had published an appreciation of Conder’s paintings in 1905 by Martin Wood. The photographs are monochrome but they still give a strong sense of Conder’s artistic vision

001 p201 - Copy

Wood says: “the eye is engaged, the intelligence is aroused, but only to a point; a story is told, a drama is enacted in them which is never finished. There is a purpose about the actions of the figures which evades us, an anecdote in each of the panels that escapes us and this elusiveness gives us rest – the restfulness which is to be demanded of perfect decoration.”  You have to leave the ordinary world of buildings and rooms behind and follow the logic of the costume parties he attended to enter into Conder’s imaginary places which are part ancient Greece, part 18th century France.

002 pp202-03 - Copy (4)

The pictures are all set out of doors in some landscaped open place, part garden, part temple, part theatre,  where clothed and naked people disport themselves in a carefree fashion, sitting, posing or engaged in enigmatic actions.

005 pp208-09 - Copy (3)

I’ve looked around for a passage from the fantastic literature of the early 20th century to complement Conder’s pictures and I’ve picked out a piece from an anthology of the stories of Lord Dunsany who was most famous as a dramatist but who also wrote curious short stories set in an invented world. They were reprinted in the post-Tolkien fantasy boom of the 1970s and fitted in well with the interest in fin de siecle decadent art and literature. Dunsany was highly influenced by Belasco’s play the Darling of the Gods, an oriental fantasy which we last encountered in a post about another of our favourite London artists, Yoshio Markino, although Conder’s images are far from Markino’s urban fantasies.

002 pp202-03 - Copy (2)

The two artists do share a certain indistinctness which adds to the unworldly tone. Some of Conder’s pictures were painted using the grisaille technique, a kind of monochrome water colour, so we don’t lose that much from seeing the pictures in black and white.

004 pp206-07 - Copy (3)

So I came down through the wood to the bank of the Yann and found, as had been prophesied, the ship Bird of the River about to loose her cable.
The captain sat cross-legged on the white deck with his scimitar lying beside him in its jewelled scabbard, and the sailors toiled to spread the nimble sails to bring the ship into the central stream of Yann, and all the while sang ancient soothing songs. And the winds of the evening descending cool from the snowfields of some mountainous abode of distant gods came suddenly, like glad tidings to an anxious city, into the wing-like sails.

From Idle days on the Yann, a story which is more middle eastern / oriental than classical but it remains one of my favourites one Dunsany’s. The narrator is a man from London who enters the land of dreams via a shop in Go-by Street, just off the Strand. Conder’s pictures also seem like entrances to another world.

004 pp206-07 - Copy

The pleasure seekers have come indoors and put their clothes on as the day grows chilly.

005 pp208-09 - Copy

Like Dunsany’s dreamer you can come back into the world and perhaps find many years have passed. Here is the house in a Planning photograph from the 1990s when presumably it had been restored to its constituent parts. I can’t tell you what became of the Conder pictures. Perhaps someone knows.

Lansdowne Road 9-13 planning photo 1990s possibly

Edmund Davis was a well known figure in the art world in his lifetime, and a friend of far more famous artists than Conder – Frank Brangwyn (who also painted wall panels at Lansdowne Road for him), Charles Ricketts, Edmund Dulac (who lived in one of Davis’s properties in Ladbroke Road). He was knighted in 1927. At his country house Chilham Castle he had old masters and many works by August Rodin. (There was an enclosed swimming pool surrounded by Rodin sculptures). There was a significant art theft there in 1938, a year before Davis’s death. Oddly, it was hard to find out a great deal of information about him. In an excellent article in Apollo  in 1980 Simon Reynolds wrote: “his name is forgotten in every field of endeavor”  His wife Mary who also worked in water colours on silk influenced by Conder died three years after him.

As the two of them have played a bigger role in this post than I anticipated here is a picture by Edmund Dulac depicting them dancing at a musical soiree.

Edmund Dulac The musical soiree p53 - Copy - Copy

This picture is the end of this post but the starting point for another one in the near future.

Postscript

I’m finishing this off just after the two minutes silence for Remembrance Day. It’s a good moment to remind anyone who is interested about our local WW1 website at http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk .

On a less serious note for those of you who like such things the London History Festival is back again, starting next week. See our website for details.

And on an even less serious note I have been reading Catie Disabato’s recent novel the Ghost Network which is a Pynchonesque narrative about a disappearing pop star and the Chicago transport network. If anyone else is reading it I draw your attention to page 130. (Near the bottom of the page – how did she know?)


Charles Conder’s bohemian days

Conder created an Arcadia peopled by dreamy, capricious figures who lead lives of luxurious idleness. They wander at dusk on the margins of tranquil, lapis lazuli seas, of lakes cerulean under the midday haze, or dally in the shade of richly foliaged trees. Scented breezes may stir their garments, but they know neither wind nor rain. There is no harshness or violence among these privileged beings, for those who dwell in Arcadia do not suffer from privation or ambition. But there is a wistfulness, sometimes, in their glances; their laughter ceases, they seem to grow weary of their own perfection, of being without past of future. They are touched by a nostalgia for the world of real men and women, of struggle and tragedy. Such moments pass; their eyes are caught again by a seductive smile, the notes of a flute or mandolin are wafted from across the water, and their faces grow tender from the contemplation of unending beauty.

Sir John Rothenstein. (1938)

Spring by the Sea

In February 1905 the artist Charles Conder and his wife Stella Maris invited their friends to a fancy dress party at their home in Cheyne Walk.

From Conder's House plate 52

The invitations might have looked like this one Conder created for another costume party

Invitation Card plate 72

Note that phrase “disguise imperative”. Conder had created a room for Edmund and Mary Davis at their house in North Kensington decorated with water colours on silk which was featured in the Studio magazine in the same year. The writer Arthur Symons recalled the “most wonderful Fancy Dress Ball the Conders gave.”

John Rothenstein had this to say about the party:

One at least of the parties given at 91 Cheyne Walk was memorable enough to be talked of to this day. A the guests arrived at the house lit with many-coloured lanterns there was an air of tense exectancy. For weeks it had been rumoured that those most renowned for the ingenuity and magnificence of their fancy dress were planning to outdo themselves. The highest expectations were fulfilled. Marie Tempest came as Peg Woffington, the Broness de Meyer as Hamlet, Mr and Mrs Edmund Davis as a pair of poodles, Mrs Lawson as as Dutch boy, and Mrs Florence Humphrey as a Conder lady. The fan which Conder offered as prize to the wearer of the dress judged the most beautiful was won by Madame Errazuiz, a dazzling South American. This party … represented the Conder’s social apotheosis.

Conder had married Stella, a wealthy Canadian widow, in 1901 and had subsequently moved in an elevated social and artistic circle.

The masquerade 48

I first came across Conder’s name when I saw this picture reproduced in a book.

La Morte Amoreuse p68

La Morte Amoreuse – The Dead Woman in love. An enigmatic picture with an intriguing title. As I looked at more of his pictures they seemed to have the same slightly macabre quality.

The shadow p56

The Spectre, also referred to as The Shadow.

Conder belongs to the same fin de siecle world as Aubrey Beardsley, who was a friend of his. Conder contributed to the Yellow Book and to Savoy magazine. Some of his work resembles Beardsley.

A fairy prince plate 8

“A fairy prince” could easily have come out of a decadent narrative like Beardsley’s Under the Hill.

A masque plate 7

Another masque. Along with Under the Hill I was taken back to the Picture of Dorian Gray, Pierre Louys’s novel Aphrodite, Flaubert’s Salammbo, the stories of Lord Dunsany, J K Huymans’ A Rebours (Against nature). You could have had a lot of quoted passages laid before you from my immersement in fantastic literature in the 70s. This was before fantasy trilogies clogged the bookshops and once you’d read your Mervyn Peake, Fritz Leiber, Robert E Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, to name a few, you had to dig deeper to find that weird frisson.

Before he washed up in Chelsea as the husband of a rich woman, there had quite a quite different side to Conder. When he was 16 years old he had been sent to Australia by his father partly to prevent him becoming an artist. It didn’t work of course and Australia actually provided him with inspiration and the company of other artists. A large part of his work features bright skies and open spaces . He returned to Europe in 1890 but remained to many an Australian artist like our friend Mortimer Menpes.

Charles Conder Rickett's Point

Rickett’s Point.

A holiday at Mentone

A holiday in Mentone. (The Australian one, obviously)

Silver sands.

On the seashore.

He combined sun, sand and a mythological air in this picture.

Charles Conder Hot Wind

Hot wind.

Conder’s relaxed life in Cheyne Walk did not last very long. He died in 1909 aged only 41, of tertiary syphillis, something his earlier biographers hint at without actually saying. Stella did not survive him by long. She died of burns after falling asleep while smoking in 1912.

Conder Stella and Florence H

Conder and Stella with their friend Florence Humphrey.

If like me you’ve never come across Conder before, there’s plenty out there to see online and even in UK galleries. One or two things in Australia too if you’re down that way. I’ve found it fascinating to go from one image to an artist’s whole life and work, especially after finding out his Chelsea connection. There’s much more  you could say but as I’m not really an art historian I’ll just end the post with another picture.

The pink dress.

Postscript

Some of the images came from Charles Conder: his life and work (Bodley Head 1914) by Frank Gibson. I also used  The life and death of Conder (Dent 1938) by Sir John Rothenstein.

There are quite a few Conder pictures on the BBC Your Paintings website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/search/painted_by/charles-conder_artists

You can also see paintings in our collection there: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/galleries/locations/kensington-central-library-6950

I can also recommend  Ann Galbally’s excellent biography Charles Conder: the last Bohemian (Melbourne University Press 2003).

I went to see an exhibition by another Chelsea riverside artist a couple of nights ago, Hugh Krall. If you’re in Chelsea you should have a look. More details here.


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