Balmoral Beach 1888 signed and dated 'Charles Conder / July 1st' lower left oil on academy board 30.5 x 47.0cm (12 x 18 1/2in).
PROVENANCE Gift from the artist Lady Muriel Hill, London Private collection, Melbourne Savill Galleries, Sydney Private collection Thence by descent Private collection, Perth
EXHIBITED Ladies In Landscapes, The Ninetieth Anniversary Exhibition of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat, 4 November 27 January 1975; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 6 February 9 March, 1975, cat no. 9 as 'View of Sydney Harbour',(illus.) 1888 1988 A Century of Australian Painting, Savill Galleries, Sydney, 21 April 21 May 1988, no. 1 (illus. cover)
LITERATURE Ursula Hoff, Charles Conder, Landsdowne Press Pty Ltd, 1972, cat no. C26, as 'View of Sydney Harbour, Australia' Art Gallery of New South Wales, Bohemians in the Bush: The Artist's Camp of Mosman, Beagle Press, pg. 17 no. 6 (illus.) 'Balmoral Beach' Ann Galbally and Barry Pearce, Charles Conder 1868 1909, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2003, pg. 20 (illus.) "Balmoral Beach"
The beach is part of the Australian way of life and has long fascinated our artists. It featured in the works of early colonial artists such as Joseph Lycett through to Brett Whiteley, who also painted at Balmoral. Popular with the French Impressionists, as seen in Claude Monet's Le Plage de Trouville 1870 (National Gallery, London), interest in the subject was shared with the Australian Impressionists, especially Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, and Arthur Streeton. Beaches feature in some of their best early paintings - Roberts's Slumbering Sea, Mentone, 1887 (National Gallery of Victoria); McCubbin's The Shore 1887 (Art Gallery of Western Australia); and Streeton's Manly Beach 1895 (Bendigo Art Gallery) to mention but a few. The beaches of Australia inspired some of Charles Conder's best paintings, including his Australian masterpiece, A Holiday at Mentone (Art Gallery of South Australia), painted in the same year as the painting on offer. It was a vintage year for Conder. There was a plethora of Sydney beach paintings including All on a Summer's Day (Art Gallery of South Australia); and Coogee Bay (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne). To these must be added those enchanting springtime paintings Herrick's Blossoms (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra); The Farm, Richmond, New South Wales (National Gallery of Victoria); and the more playful A Taste for Literature (Art Gallery of Ballarat), all of much beauty and charm. Conder's interest in beach side subjects continued after his move to Melbourne A Holiday at Mentone 1888 as already mentioned, Rickett's Point 1890 (National Gallery of Victoria), and others. And later in England and France Sketch of Littlehampton Beach 1890 (NGV), Dieppe 1895 (Manchester Art Gallery), and The Beach at Ambleteuse 1901 (Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust). Of Conder's brief and brilliant Australian sojourn, collector Barry Humphries wrote, 'In the few years before departing for Europe for good, ...Conder produced an astonishingly precocious body of work. Depicting most often the coastal scenery of Victoria and New South Wales, his style sometimes echoed Boudin and Bonnington, but was mostly his own.' 1
Working out doors directly from the motif was greatly in vogue, as artists sought to translate into paint transient atmospheric effects, filling their canvases with fresh air. Not all were bright with sunlight as seen in Conder's lyrical Balmoral Beach 1888, which delights in the softer tonalities of Whistler. The fluidity of paint and the spontaneity with which it was applied are admired features of plein airism. Conder, as was his practice, appears to have completed the picture in his studio, adding small figures as enlivening colour accents, the clever placement of reds and pinks sporting across the lively picture plane with wit and compositional intent. Structured on the embracing curve, the sweep of the beach is repeated in the gentle waves, as Conder blends humorous incident and dancing reflections with decorative finesse. The moment has a transience that entices like a fading dream, luminous and poetically suggestive. The pearly colours and soft light evoke an enveloping moisture. Conder had an extraordinary gift for creating a sense of moisture in his pictures. This was due to some degree to the influence of Girolamo Nerli, who painted with him at Bronte Beach on the Queen's Birthday holiday of 1888. 2 Conder's The Departure of the Orient Circular Quay (Art Gallery of New South Wales), one of his best Australian paintings, is a tour de force of rain effects and reflections in wet surfaces, the mood of nature cleverly adding to the melancholy aroused by departing friends. He repeated this link between nature and human emotions in another moment of departure painted in Melbourne,View of Port Phillip Bay 1889 (University of Queensland, Brisbane). Conder's fascination with rainy atmosphere led him to paint a number of works on the subject. The Nerli-influenced Gray and Gold 1888 (National Gallery of Australia), of a wet evening near Sydney's Redfern Station, features a wet pavement of reflections of the rain departing sky. Of the usually sunny Hawkesbury paintings, one, Tea-Time 1888, (Art Gallery of South Australia), delights in grey skies. As Barry Pearce has pointed out, 'Overcast, wet days brought out an exquisite musicality in Conder's sensibilities. ... few Australian painters have been able to portray as well on this scale clouds so ominously pregnant with moisture.' 4 Even his '9 by 5' paintings were not immune. The sad tale of the loss of Frederick McCubbin's dog Flossie, How We Lost Poor Flossie 1889 (Art Gallery of South Australia), is set in a rainy day, as obliging nature wept too.
1. Barry Humphries, 'Confessions of a collector', in Galbally & Pearce, op. cit., p.33
2. Conder's Bronte, Queen's Birthday 1888 in the D. R. Sheumack Collection of Australian Paintings, Sydney, and Bronte Beach 1888 in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
3. Barry Pearce, 'Between worlds: Conder in Australia', in Galbally & Pearce, op. cit., p.20