5 – Charles Conder

‘Swanage’ (Oil on Canvas) 1900
Panel 5 – Charles Conder (1868 – 1909)
Charles Conder painted this delightful view of Swanage coastguard station in the spring of 1900, while on holiday with his friend Augustus John. The two men, both fond of good living in London and Paris, stayed in a guest house on Peveril Point run by the mother of John Everett, another artist friend, trying not to drink and working hard.
Augustus John was impressed with Conder’s painting, ‘which becomes every day more beautiful,’ he wrote. Everett admired the way Conder could sit in the middle of a rowdy group, smoking and talking, but go on painting at the same time – ‘At times it seemed as if somebody else was doing the watercolour.’ Conder produced nine views of Swanage, three of which are now in Tate Britain in London, including this one.
He was born in England in 1868, but when he was 15 his father sent him off to his uncle, a surveyor in Sydney, Australia, hoping to discourage his love of art. But besides his survey work Conder took art classes, and in 1886 he won a prize for a painting and began getting his illustrations published. Europe beckoned, and he sailed to Naples in 1890, travelling via Rome and Florence to Paris, where he attended Rodolphe Julian’s atelier. He made friends with Oscar Wilde and many other celebrities of the art world; Toulouse-Lautrec painted his portrait in 1892. (It now hangs in Aberdeen Art Gallery.) He spent his later years in London, Paris and Normandy.
The bohemian lifestyle of many gifted men of the age attracted Conder, and his charming, rakish character and witty, delicate work attracted them in turn. But tragically, he became addicted to alcohol, and he died of syphilis in 1909. Just four years after his death, his work was being acclaimed by Degas and Pissarro, who ranked Charles Conder as a ‘Modern Master’.
Janet Watts