The National Gallery of Australia
acquires a lost icon of Australian art
Charles Conder Hot wind 1889 oil on board 29.4 x 75.0 cm, purchased with the assistance of the Sarah and Baillieu Myer Family Foundation 2006, National Gallery of Australia
29 June 2006
The National Gallery of Australia announces the recent acquisition of a major nineteenth-century symbolist painting by Charles Conder, Hot wind 1889, made possible with the generous assistance of the Sarah and Baillieu Myer Family Foundation.
The rediscovery of Charles Conder’s remarkable painting Hot wind 1889 fills an important gap in the history of Australian art. It is one of very few works by this renowned artist that had been left in private hands and is one of the most intriguing and accomplished symbolist works painted in this country. Ron Radford, Director of the National Gallery, says:
’This daring painting caused quite a stir when it was first shown in Conder’s time. It subsequently became one of the great mysteries of Australian art. Painted during the great Victorian drought of 1888–89, the work had been taken by Conder to England in 1890 and disappeared from public view. We are delighted that with the assistance of the Sarah and Baillieu Myer Family Foundation, this important painting that was recently re-discovered in a private collection has entered the national collection. It will be a treasure for the public to enjoy for all time.’
In a letter of 1889 Conder noted that his painting Hot wind represented the harshness of drought. Indeed, the powerful emptiness of the landscape and the femme fatale breathing smoke from a burning brazier across the parched desert plains towards a distant town aptly symbolises the catastrophe of drought. Conder wrote that it was the ‘best work he had done at present’. His friend Arthur Streeton was also impressed and delighted by its breakaway from tradition.
In Hot wind the daring handling of space maximises the focus of our attention on the mysterious personification of the hot wind. In the background the small landscape at the top of the hill reminds us of Conder’s interest in lyrical plein-air painting excursions in the Australian bush. The overall emphasis is on symbolist evocation: on light and heat, sensual beauty and danger. Deborah Hart, Senior Curator, Australian Painting and Sculpture says:
’The pale, bleached shimmering tonality of the foreground landscape is characteristic of some of Conder’s best works. The many elements of this painting reflect the artist’s own passions: his love of theatrical expression, his intense imagination, his familiarity with contemporary symbolist trends in Europe, his feeling for the luminosity and atmospherics of the Australian landscape and his profound awareness (as a result of the death of his brother and personal illness) of our human mortality.’
Hot wind is a key symbolist work from Conder’s formative Australian period that has affinities with works in the collection by Arthur Streeton and Sydney Long. Painted six months before the famous 9 by 5 Impression exhibition, it is arguably the most important of Conder’s group of allegorical paintings that will greatly strengthen the national collection.
Charles Conder Hot Wind 1889 is currently on display at the National Gallery of Australia