Tottenham, Middlesex, England 1868 – Virginia Water, Surrey, England 1909
London, England commenced 1897
Collection Title: The Balzac set by Charles Conder. London: Carfax and Co, 1899
Place made: London, Greater London, England
Materials & Technique: prints, ink; paper transfer-lithograph, printed in brownish red ink, from one stone Support: cream wove Japanese vellum paper
Manufacturer's Mark: no manufacturer's mark
Edition State: published state
Edition: edition of 25; trial proof in black ink
Place Published: London: Carfax and Co.
Estheris from a series of six lithographs, known as ‘The Balzac Set’, which Conder produced in 1899. It shows the dramatic scene from Honoré de Balzac’s novel Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes (Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life), first published in 1839–47, in which the heroine, Esther, is found dead in her bedroom by her lover, the elderly and avaricious banker, Baron Nucingen, and her two maids, Europe and Asia. Whereas Balzac createda broad panoramaof early 19th-century French society in over 90 novels and stories, Conder focused on those aspects of the writer’s work which portrayed the Paris demimonde.
In Paris, Conder plunged wholeheartedly into the bohemian life of Montmartre, where he found studio lodgings on his arrival from Australia in 1890. As the English artist William Rothenstein, whom Conder first befriended in Paris, later recalled: ‘there is ... a charm to be living in circumstances which wear a character of romance, to be reading Balzac and Stendhal ... and to find oneself at supper parties among poets and painters and their women friends, the Esthers and Coralies of the day’.1
In 1899, Rothenstein, in his Kensington studio in London, showed Conder the process of drawing on specially prepared paper for transfer to the lithographic stone. ‘I find lithography very hard but most interesting’, Conder confided to his friend in a letter of 8 November 1899, and sent for approval three new litho-graphs for ‘The Balzac Set’, including Esther, which ‘I like the best’.2
The lithographs were published as a portfolio entitled Six Lithographed Drawings from Balzac by the London gallery, Carfax. Printed in brownish-red ink in an edition of 25 sets, they recalled the earlier red chalk drawings of the 18th-century French artists Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Antoine Watteau, whose rococo fantasies and idylls Conder greatly admired. During his brief printmaking career, Conder made 33 lithographs between 1899 and 1905. Interestingly, the National Gallery of Australia’s ‘Balzac Set’ was once owned by Rothenstein.
Stephen Coppel 2002
1 William Rothenstein, Men and Memories: Recollections 1872–1922, 2nd ed., 2 vols, 1931–32, London, vol.1, 1934, p.73; cited in Ursula Hoff, Charles Conder, Melbourne: 1972, p.75.
2 cited in John Rothenstein, The Life and Death of Conder, London: Dent, 1938, pp.173–4.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002