Charles Edward Conder

1 portrait

Charles Edward Conder, by Charles Edward Conder, 1905 -NPG 4556 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Charles Edward Conder

by Charles Edward Conder
Blue chalk on pale blue flecked paper, 1905
15 1/4 in. x 10 5/8 in. (387 mm x 270 mm)
NPG 4556


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This portraitback to top

This self-portrait, with its look of having been drawn while seated in front of a mirror, has historically been linked to a fancy-dress party hosted by Conder and his wife on 18 February 1905 at their house, 91 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. There are differing accounts of Conder’s costume on this occasion.

Fellow-guest Arthur Symons recalled that Conder ‘had invented for himself the costume of a dandy of 1830, that of Balzac’s Eugene de Rastignac [from Le Père Goriot] with white ruffles and a Parisian top-hat’. [1] Following this and owing to Conder’s ‘longstanding identification with Balzacian heroes’, [2] his most recent biographer identifies the drawing as ‘Self-portrait as Eugene de Rastignac’. [3]

Fellow-guest, artist Thea Proctor, recalled that, at the 1905 party, the host was revealed in the street outside dressed as an ‘old Neapolitan organ-grinder with a monkey on his shoulder’. [4]

A third source states that photographer Adolf de Meyer suggested that Conder put on an old smoking jacket, part his hair in the middle and go to the party as Beau Brummell; [5] this title was given to the drawing in 1967. [6]

De Meyer’s description accords with the sitter’s appearance in NPG 4556, but is he in costume, either as dandy or organ-grinder? There are no white ruffles; Brummell did not wear his hair in this fashion; the roll-collar garment resembles an Edwardian smoking jacket or dressing gown, as worn by an invalid. The link with fancy dress may therefore be mistaken. The date is, however, consistent with Conder’s poor health; the features depicted are notably more haggard than those in the self-portrait of 1902 (see ‘All known portraits’) and the moustache he had worn for years is missing. In May 1906 Conder suffered a paralytic attack that heralded the close of his career.

A slighter and not dissimilar pencil drawing was sold as a self-portrait by Christie’s Australia, 6 June 1989 (see ‘All known portraits, Self-portraits, c.1909’).

The likely provenance for the present work is Stella Conder; her sister Mrs Herbert Lawson; her daughter-in-law Mrs Cecil Lawson. It is possible that this is the work lent by Mrs H. Lawson to the Conder exhibition in Sydney in 1927. [7]

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Symons 1927, p.25. Conder’s decorated invitation to the party is BM, London, 1912,0503.1.
2) Galbally & Pearce 2003, p.53.
3) Galbally & Pearce 2003, no.98; Galbally 2002, pp.262–3.
4) Conversation in 1964, quoted by Barry Humphries in Galbally & Pearce 2003, p.40.
5) ‘It was at the suggestion of Conder’s friend Baron de Meyer that Conder should put on an old smoking jacket, part his hair in the centre and go as Beau Brummell. Information from Maas & Co who also had a drawing of de Meyer by Conder in the same jacket to show how Conder himself would appear as Beau Brummell’: text on invoice 6028, 5 May 1967 from J.S. Maas & Co to Roy Strong; NPG RP 4556.
6) Conder 1967, no.97.
7) Letter from William Moore to C.K. Adams, NPG general correspondence archive, noted in NPG RP 4456.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders to right, hair with centre parting, wearing jacket with roll collar of quilted or check fabric.

Provenanceback to top

Mrs Cecil Lawson; with Maas Gallery from whom purchased, 1967.

Exhibitionsback to top

Early English Drawings and Watercolours, Maas & Co., London, Summer 1967 (9).

Charles Conder, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, 1967 (97).

Charles Conder, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2003–4 (98).

View all known portraits for Charles Edward Conder