Sunday, July 15, 2012

The silks again

Here is the other, best-preserved of Conder’s cartouches for the nine Garvan silks here at Yale—in many respects the strangest and most uncharacteristic, owing to its semi-martial, semi-heraldic prompts. Newcomers are inclined to judge Conder’s draftsmanship harshly, and may also from time to time regard his visions as slight. However, neither charge in any way diminishes the fertility of the artist’s imagination, the inventiveness of his designs, or the vividness of his dreams of powerful women—in this case some sort of fusion of Boadicea, Lady Godiva, or Jeanne d’Arc, indeed wearing armor and passing in procession through a triumphal arch festooned and framed with forget-me-nots, her mount preceded by a female companion walking beside beds of red roses in the foreground. The surmounting armorial crest of breastplate, gorget, and helmet with a crest of three frothing white ostrich feathers reinforces the military character of the asymmetrical cartouche beneath—and stands in strong contrast to the pastoral shepherdesses’ crooks and the many other floral and botanical motifs that flank certain of the other, lesser cartouches on neighboring panels. (Note those black gloves, which were the height of fashion in 1895.)  
Conder’s treatment of his notional skies also nods generously to conventions of Japanese silk-painting, and to a lesser extent, Japenese woodblock prints, something that Camille Pissarro noticed and commented on in 1895, although the older artist was curiously insensitive to, even unaware of, the artist’s fundamentally eighteenth-century framework.
Yet even the small medallions (such as this) that hover in pairs above and below the principal cartouches reward close inspection. Through that busy year of 1895 Charles Conder was obviously borne aloft on a cloud of creative excitement, and rarely if ever did his watercolor palette attain such heights of vividness and flamboyance. In a way, these are the exceptions that prove the rule laid down much later by W. B. Yeats, who, after witnessing the first performance in December 1896 of Alfred Jarry’s anti-realist satire Ubu Roi at the Théâtre de l’oeuvre in Paris (with sets designed by Paul Sérusier and Pierre Bonnard) recorded his own remarkable and characteristically immodest assessment of Conder’s central importance to the international literary and art worlds of the mid-1890s, an assessment that was evidently carried with him by the artist into the heart of Edwardian London, and happily shared there by those few enlightened connoisseurs who loved and supported him for the rest of his painfully short life: “After Stéphane Mallarmé, after Paul Verlaine, after Gustave Moreau, after Puvis de Chavannes, after our own verse, after all our subtle color and nervous rhythm, after the faint mixed tints of Conder, what more is possible? After us the Savage God.”

No comments:

Post a Comment