Charles Conder & The Rubaiyat

Prefatory Note:The illustrations for this article can be browsed here.

Charles Conder (1868–1909) is one of those fin de siècle artists with definite Omarian leanings. Though he never illustrated a published edition of The Rubaiyat, he did do some drawings related to it, and there are Omarian strands to many of his paintings. His biographical details being readily accessible today (1), little needs to be said here beyond a few details for background.

He was born in London in 1868; spent part of his childhood in India; was sent back to England to go to boarding school in 1873; and was sent off to work for his uncle, as a surveyor, in Australia in 1884. It is said that such was his indifference to trigonometrical surveying out in the bush that he was relegated to the position of camp cook! (1d, p.6)

It was in Australia that his artistic career began. One of his early paintings, “Landscape with Theodolite” (Fig.1), if not actually painted during his time as a surveyor (or cook!), must surely have been painted as a backward glance shortly after that. (It is generally dated c.1887.) At any rate, in 1886/7 he got a job as a lithographer, began to do freelance work for The Illustrated Sydney News, and took up painting in earnest. His work at first consisted of fairly routine landscapes, in Impressionist–style (he was a great admirer of Monet, and also, in a somewhat different though related vein, of Whistler.) One example of his early work which is of particular interest to us here for its Omarian leanings is “Herrick’s Blossoms” (Fig.2), painted in about 1888, and of which more presently. Another example of his early landscape work – interesting for its humour – is “A Taste for Literature” (Fig.3), also painted in 1888. Rather different again is the early example of Conder’s Symbolist leanings, “The Hot Wind” (Fig.4), painted as a result of a heat wave and drought in the Melbourne area in 1889. (2) An odd combination of Impressionism and Symbolism which also dates from 1889 is the enigmatic painting “A Dream of Handel’s Largo” (Fig.5.) Exactly what it has to do with Handel’s Largo is anybody’s guess. An aria from the opera Xerxes, the Largo is essentially an appreciation of the shade offered by a plane tree (3a), which doesn’t seem to help us with the painting much. Ursula Hoff calls it “a light–hearted fantasy” (1c, p.39) on fellow–artist Tom Roberts practising the organ in preparation for the opening of the 9 x 5 exhibition (3b) in Melbourne in August 1889 – presumably, then, he played the Largo, and possibly for no more significant reason than that it was a popular piece of music at the time, as it still is, of course. A musical theme is certainly suggested by the figure of a violinist in the queue of individuals (musicians ?) marching down the painting behind the mysterious figure in black. But what are the two men in the centre right of the picture doing ? Do they represent Conder watching Roberts play the organ ? If so, it is a very wide organ, and the effect is more like two men having a drink at a bar!

In 1890 Conder left Australia for Europe, and thereafter spent most of his time working in France and England, but with interludes in Spain, Italy and Algeria. It was on his arrival in Europe that he turned more to Symbolism, an intriguing example of which is the rather curious production, “A Dream in Absinthe” (Fig.6), painted in Paris in 1890. (It could almost be a product of the psychedelic 1960s (4) and probably owes its inspiration to what Rothenstein called Conder’s “dangerous taste for absinthe” (1d, p.74).) It was in the 1890s that he met and became associated with Aubrey Beardsley, Ernest Dowson, Arthur Symons, Charles Ricketts and Will Rothenstein, not to mention the likes of Oscar Wilde, Max Beerbohm and Toulouse–Lautrec (5). He also met the publishers John Lane and Leonard Smithers. For Lane he illustrated Dowson’s translation of Madame de Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast (1897/8 (?) & 1908: Figs.7a, 7b & 7c) (6), and in the period 1895–7 contributed seven illustrations for Lane’s well–known journal, The Yellow Book (7a), two examples of which are shown here: “Recreations of Cupid” (Fig.8a) and “A Masque” (Fig.8b). (Lane also published the earliest biography of Conder, that by Frank Gibson.(1e)) For Smithers, Conder illustrated Dowson’s translation of Balzac’s La Fille aux Yeux d’Or (1896; Figs.9a & 9b) and made two contributions to Smithers’ short–lived but nevertheless famous magazine, The Savoy (7b). One of these was the frontispiece of La Fille aux Yeux d’Or and the other, “Mandoline”, is shown here as Fig.10.

Conder died in London in 1909 at the early age of 40, the cause of death being “general paralysis of the insane”, a result of late–stage syphilis, which he had apparently contracted in 1888 by paying his landlady the rent in sexual favours rather than in cash (1d, p.226). There is no doubt, too, that a lifetime of heavy drinking had taken its toll.

Conder had the awareness of the transience of human life thrust upon him at an early age. His mother died, possibly of tuberculosis, when he was only four and a half years old, and his brother Samuel James, two years older than him, certainly died of that disease in 1883. Conder himself was diagnosed with syphilis very soon after contracting it in 1888, and by the age of thirty, if not before, he knew that this and his hedonistic lifestyle would make an early end of him. The very early death of Beardsley from tuberculosis in 1898; the death of Ernest Dowson in February 1900, at the age of only 32, with the sad end of Wilde in November of the same year; and the death of Toulouse–Lautrec in 1901, at the early age of 36, all profoundly affected Conder.

But moving now to the Omarian elements in Conder’s work, we know that he had a particular fondness for FitzGerald’s Omar. John Rothenstein tells us that he constantly read and recited The Rubaiyat (1d, p.23) and that “under the spell of wine” he would often “improvise rambling Omaresque poems in prose, through which figures from the Bible, Balzac, Browning, or Herrick, or from his own Arcadia, would pass, in disorderly procession, across mysterious, iridescent landscapes.” (1d, p.52). We shall have more to say about Herrick, Browning and Conder’s Arcadia below.

One of Conder’s most direct references to FitzGerald is provided by a pen and ink drawing in which he actually incorporated a quote from The Rubaiyat (v.14 of the 5th edition.) This was his “Almond Trees in Flower” (Fig.11), drawn in Algiers sometime in the spring of 1892, when Conder spent some time there, mainly for health reasons connected with his syphilis (1a, p.90.) The drawing was exhibited at the Père Thomas Gallery in Paris, in March 1892, in a joint exhibition with Will Rothenstein. Only a rather poor image of the drawing is available (8a), as its present whereabouts are unknown, but the following description of it is given in Frank Gibson’s book (as note 1e, p.35):

Here by the side of a pool to the right are young trees in full blossom intertwined with a rose tree, from whose flowers petals fall in a shower upon the head of a female bust (8b). In the lower left hand corner of the composition is written with the brush the well–known stanza from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

Look to the blowing Rose about us – ‘Lo,
Laughing,’ she says, ‘into the world I blow,
At once the silken tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw.’ (8c)

Talking of this same exhibition, Will Rothenstein – by now Sir William Rothenstein (1d) – in his Men and Memories, vol.1 (1931), tells us that, “Conder showed paintings of orchards and drawings inspired by Omar Khayyam” (p.101.) Unfortunately, the present whereabouts of these drawings, like that in Fig.11, seems not to be known, but an image of another of them (Fig.12) seems to have been preserved in an article, published thirty years after the artist’s death, by Conder’s friend, the Scottish painter, writer and art critic, Dugald MacColl (9) Titled “The Sleeper and Wild Ass”, the drawing clearly relates to “Bahram, that great Hunter” and the Wild Ass of Fitzgerald’s fifth edition, v.18, though the ‘Bahram’ in Conder’s drawing seems to be a rather crudely drawn female.

We also know, from a catalogue of an exhibition of Conder’s work held in New York in 1913 (10a), that at some unknown date he had done a painting on silk titled, “For a Quatrain of Omar”. Alas, no image of this is available, and its whereabouts are unknown, which is a pity, as Conder’s watercolours on silk are some of his finest productions. Incidentally, we are also told in the introduction to this catalogue that Conder “lies buried in a grave like Omar’s, near which the nightingale loves to sing and fading roses drop their fragrant petals.” (p.11) How true this is – or was – I do not know, as Conder was buried in an unmarked grave, on February 12th 1909, in the graveyard of Christ Church, Virginia Water, Surrey. Sadly, there is now no record of its exact location.(10b).

It was during the period 1892–3 that Conder, having obtained an unillustrated copy of The Rubaiyat, decorated it with his own pen and ink drawings, and gave it to his friend, the above mentioned, Dugald MacColl (11a). It was the edition published by Macmillan & Co., London, in 1891, and inscribed in the front was: “Charles Conder 92 / To Dugald MacColl – Ste Marguerite s/ mer September 1893.” MacColl had written favourable reviews of some paintings by Conder which had been exhibited at the Paris Salons of May 1892 and May 1893 (11a), and when the two actually met for the first time, in Paris in the summer of 1893, they became friends. Conder had acquired his copy of The Rubaiyat in 1892, hence the 92 in the inscription, and he presented it to MacColl when the two of them, along with a few other friends (including Aubrey Beardsley), were paying an artistic visit to Ste. Marguerite–sur–Mer, a few miles west of Dieppe, in September 1893 – again as the inscription indicates. (11b) Conder decorated the front and back pages in colour, in addition to adding illustrations in pen and ink. Fortunately, this unique book has survived.

We know that MacColl lent it, along with a couple of other items, to a loan exhibition of Conder’s work held at the National Gallery, Millbank, London, in 1927 (12). Presumably it was later returned to him, and he retained it until his death in December 1948, after which it seems to have gone onto the open market. At any rate, in the 1970s it was offered for sale by a book dealer (no longer in business) to Barry Humphries, and in Barry’s collection it now resides. Thanks to him, then, we can now view this copy, the following images working from cover to cover. The commentary treats each image in order, but the complete set of images, Figs.13a to 13i, can be browsed here. As will be seen, Conder’s textual illustrations adorn the pages of the book containing the fifth edition of The Rubaiyat and FitzGerald’s notes on it.

Fig.13a is the watercolour decoration of the front free end paper. It depicts a young woman looking at a rose to the lower right, with, above, another rose shedding its petals on her. This, of course, repeats the message of Fig.11 and recalls the comments on it by Rothenstein, quoted above. It also recalls verse 96 of the fifth edition:

Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet–scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

We shall return to the tiny blue bird / crescent later. Though it is tempting to link it to the Nightingale “whence and whither flown again”, this doesn’t really fit, as the nightingale is a relatively drab coloured bird, and is certainly not blue.

Fig.13b is the decorated title–page, with its inscription as quoted above. Here again we have roses shedding their petals, and, presumably, a wine–jug. (21)

Fig.13c: p.29 of the book, featuring the opening verses of FitzGerald’s fifth edition, sparsely decorated with the Sun scattering the Stars (and a crescent Moon) from the Field of Night.

Fig.13d: p.31, of the book, featuring verse 6 to 8 of the fifth edition. This is another relative of Fig.11 – certainly the heads of the girls in both are very similar, though the one in Fig.13d is marred by what looks like a beard, but which probably represents frustrated corrections! Again rose (?) petals fall upon her, recalling the last line of verse 8 (“The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.”) But here, unlike in Fig.11, her hands are visible, with a bunch of grapes and a glass of wine to the lower right, and with a bird – presumably the Bird of Time (“on the Wing”) of verse 7 – to the left.

Fig.13e: p.48–9 of the book, featuring verses 57 to 62 of the fifth edition, seemingly decorated in watercolour with roses (?) and falling petals – odd, since none of these verses mentions roses or flowers of any sort! This is the only two–page spread of the book Conder decorated like this.

Fig.13f: p.62 of the book, featuring verses 99 to 101 of the fifth edition. The drawing clearly depicts Omar in his grave, with “yon rising Moon” in the background. He holds a rose shedding its petals, symbolic of death (recall note (8b) & Fig.28.) The swirls to the right, I suspect, relate to verse 92 (back on p.59):

That ev’n my buried Ashes such a snare
Of Vintage shall fling up into the Air
As not a True–believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.

Fig.13g: p.64–5 of the book, and part of FitzGerald’s Notes. Conder’s message here is very unclear. At the foot of page 65 is a young woman holding a glass of wine, together with a strange beast of an indeterminate nature (Beauty and the Beast ?) At the foot of the left–hand page are two centaurs running off into the distance.

Fig.13h: p.67 of the book, another page of FitzGerald’s Notes; another drawing, like Fig.13d, perhaps disfigured by corrections; and another one whose message is very unclear. The seated young woman is perhaps holding a bunch of roses in her lap, and at her feet is a plant–pot out of which something is growing, but that is about all that is clear! The only nearby reference to flowers is FitzGerald’s reference to the “Pasque Flower” on p.65–6, p.67 giving the only reasonable expanse of blank page in which to fit any drawing.

Fig.13i is the watercolour and ink decoration of the back free end paper. It depicts a young woman, holding a rose, looking out over the sea from a balcony. Presumably, like the young woman in Fig.13a she represents “Youth’s sweet–scented Manuscript” of verse 96 of the fifth edition.

Figs.13a to 13i (browse) are all the illustrations that Conder did in this copy of the Macmillan Rubaiyat, and one cannot help but think that this was still a “work in progress” when he gave it to MacColl. Fig.13c seems to be an unfinished sketch (“The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light” would have completed it nicely), and Fig.13e is perhaps an experimental pattern to be used on other pages as well, but never followed through. Again, one wonders why Conder didn’t illustrate verse 12 (the famous “Book of Verses underneath the Bough &c”), or verse 18 (as in his drawing of Fig.12), or, given his partiality for Roses, verse 19:

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head.

Again, he resisted “that Angel of the darker Drink” of verse 43, the “Angel Shape” by the Tavern Door of verse 58, the “Magic Shadow–shapes” of verse 68, and the wonderful opportunities offered for illustration by the Potter’s Shop of verse 82 to 90. But the fact is that, for whatever reason, Conder didn’t illustrate any of these verses in the Macmillan Rubaiyat. Whether he illustrated any of them in the drawings exhibited in Paris in 1892, alongside those in Figs.11 & 12, remains unknown at present. It is a pity that, crude as some of them are, Figs.11, 12 & 13a to 13i are all that we now have of Conder’s direct responses to The Rubaiyat. (Browse.)

It is known that in 1893 Conder had ambitions to publish an illustrated edition of The Rubaiyat, and that MacColl thought it might be feasible if done in a limited edition. In fact, the unique copy from which Figs.13a to 13i are taken could well have been a (partial ?) template for it. But unfortunately nothing came of the idea, for reasons unknown, though expense is likely to have been a major factor. The only record we have of the proposed venture seems to be that contained in a letter MacColl wrote to his sister Lizzie (who was a book–binder), dated 23rd September 1893. (The same month as the inscription in Fig.13b, of course.) The Conder Rubaiyat was clearly to have been part of a broader publishing plan of MacColl’s, run in conjunction with his sister, though at the time of writing this letter, Conder clearly knew nothing about it! In some places the writing is far from clear:

I have been thinking of the best plan of campaign for the future, & have a project which I think might be a good one. Neither you nor I can afford to give so much time to books at the prices you have been asking. I think we ought to bring out, so to speak, a limited edition of a book – so many copies with the design repeated upon them & offer them at a good price each. We might give them a further interest by pasting (?) designs on the end papers. For instance Conder is anxious to do something by way of illustration to Omar Khayyam & it is doubtful how far a reproduction in colours of designs would be feasible. But for a limited number – say 20 copies – this could be done by hand. Now supposing I designed a cover & Conder the end–papers or he one & I the other & we put a show copy in a shop & advertised them at £50 apiece there would be £1000 to divide if they sold or £500 for 10 copies. You could have the binding done for you if you liked & only do the tooling. Anyhow that is the sort of thing we must try on a bigger or smaller scale.

I haven’t said anything to Conder yet, as the idea didn’t occur to me in this shape while he was here. When I get my poems out we’ll do them in the same way. I hold up these dazzling pictures with all reserves as the journalists (?) say, but I am sure there is money in the thing if we work it properly. (11c)

Whether MacColl ever did mention his plans to Conder remains unknown. At any rate, Conder’s wish to publish an illustrated Rubaiyat remained unfulfilled, and MacColl’s poems appear, likewise, to have remained unpublished in book form until many years later (11d).

It would be interesting to know why nothing came of Conder’s project, since the publisher Leonard Smithers, for whom, as we have seen, Conder did a fair bit of art work, actually issued an edition of The Rubaiyat in 1898, namely, Fourteen Drawings illustrating Edward FitzGerald’s Translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Gilbert James (Potter #391.) So why did Smithers do this when Conder had an edition in mind ? It may simply have been, of course, that each knew nothing of the plans of the other, or it may have been (as MacColl indicated in the letter to his sister) the cost and / or difficulty of publishing Conder’s planned edition; or it may have been simply that Smithers just wasn’t impressed with Conder’s work in this direction, for it has to be admitted that the art–work in Figs.13a to 13i (browse) is rather crude. [Incidentally, one could ask the same question of John Lane, for whom Conder had also worked: in 1901 Lane published two editions of The Rubaiyat, both illustrated by Herbert Cole (Potter #8 & #9.) Plus Charles Ricketts, who had published a photograph of Conder’s painting “L’Oiseau Bleu” – of which more below – in his short–lived periodical The Pageant in 1896, was also to publish an edition of The Rubaiyat, with a frontispiece by himself (Potter #4.) It was published in 1901, the American sales of it being handled by Lane. Indeed, Ricketts was such a fan of Conder that he also wrote an “In Memoriam” article on him shortly after the artist’s death.] (13)

Returning to Conder’s paintings, now, he had something of an obsession with painting blossom, with its symbolic Omarian associations with the transience of human life, and the fragility of youth and beauty. “Herrick’s Blossoms” (Fig.2) is but one example, almost certainly taking its title from Robert Herrick’s poem, “To Blossoms.” (14a) The last of its three verses reads thus:

But you are lovely leaves, where we
May read how soon things have
Their end, though ne’er so brave:
And after they have shown their pride
Like you a while, they glide
Into the grave.

As with Omar, Conder had a particular fondness for Herrick – witness his paintings “A Page from Herrick” and “Old Time is still a’ Flying”, both painted, or at least exhibited, in 1889 (14b), the latter title being from Herrick’s famous poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”, with its opening two lines, “Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may, / Old time is still a–flying,” Herrick, of course, fore–shadows FitzGerald’s Omar in many respects (14c). Roses and their transience feature in verse 9 of the fifth edition, for example:

Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday ?:
And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.

Again, verse 63 of the same edition:

Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain – This Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

And verse 96 of the same edition, already quoted above in connection with Fig.13a, bears the same message.

Of course, we cannot know if Conder actually had these verses in mind when he painted “Herrick’s Blossoms”, merely that he had Herrick’s poem in mind, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility given what we have seen above.

As mentioned earlier, in the winter of 1891–2 Conder spent some time in Algiers where, besides his drawing “Almond Trees in Flower” (Fig.11) he did several paintings, amongst which was another of his ‘blossom series’, “Fruit Trees in Blossom, Algiers” (Fig.14.) According to Ann Galbally (1b, p.66), these blossoms too are “emblems of the fragility of youth and beauty”, the passage of time being represented by the falling petals – a theme repeated in “Springtime”, also painted in 1892 (Fig.15.) Given Conder’s direct allusions to Herrick (Fig.2) and Omar Khayyam (Fig.11 & Figs.13a to 13i – browse), this is entirely reasonable. One can easily imagine that Conder had the last line of v.8 of FitzGerald’s fifth edition in mind, as he did in Fig.13d, when he painted some of his falling blossom pictures, for example:

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

But did he necessarily have this verse in mind ? A cautionary note is perhaps in order.

Though blossoms can indeed be symbolic of transience, we have to beware of seeing symbolic transience every time a blossom appears in a painting. In other words, we must beware of seeing things which the artist never really intended.: flowers can be just flowers, and trees can be just trees, after all (as in Fig.3, I would venture to suggest.) This is well illustrated by Turner’s reaction to some of Ruskin’s comments on his paintings: “He puts things into my head, and points out meanings in them that I never intended.” (15a) Another of Conder’s paintings which is of interest here is “The Cottage, Giverny” (c.1892–4) (Fig.16.) But do its blossoms, like those in Fig.2, with their known reference to Herrick’s poem, or those in Fig.11 and Figs.13a to 13i (browse), with their known reference to Omar, symbolise the fragility of the youth and beauty of the woman depicted in it ? Much the same can be asked of a rather later painting of his, “The Howe in Spring” (Fig.17), apparently painted at a house of that name at Wallingford, near Oxford, in about 1906, though probably later (16) It is tempting to compare these paintings with Millais’ “Spring (Apple Blossoms)”, painted in 1859, and which is generally held to represent “the fragile beauty of adolescence.” (Gallery 3C, Fig.7 and notes on verse 72.) Millais, of course, stamped his symbolic message on the painting by the inclusion of the scythe in the bottom right of the painting, but we have no such indication in Conder’s paintings. Even so, it does seem entirely possible that Figs.16 & 17 do allude to transience at some level. However, when one sees the likes of “A Garden of Roses” (17) (Fig.18), one of Conder’s wonderful water–colour on silk fan designs, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Roses of the title are the young ladies in the painting, rather than flowers, transient or otherwise. Again, in a letter to Will Rothenstein written in June 1892, Conder wrote:

I have a wonderful subject to paint in the mornings, some oak and willow trees, and a rosy bank that Apollo might have run down to find some live nymphs. (1d, p.89)

Thus Conder did not always have transience in mind when he painted trees and roses, for much of his work was centred on an idealised past, an Arcadia. This took two forms – the predominant one represented by the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (particularly French and the era of Balzac) and a lesser one by Classical Greece – hence the reference to Apollo and the likes of his black chalk drawing, “Pan” (1904) (17) (Fig.19). [Hence also, perhaps, the curious contents of Fig.13g.]

As with many another artist, one suspects that Conder’s Classical Arcadia gave him a good excuse to depict naked women, for in addition to his passion for alcohol (there is no doubt he had a drink problem) Conder also had a passion for women. According to Rothenstein, “nearly any woman, glorified by his imagination, became desirable.” (1d, p.74) To put it bluntly, Conder had a strong sex–drive and was thus a willing follower of Toulouse–Lautrec on his night–time tours of the seedier haunts of Paris (1a, p.83 & note 5 below.) As Rothenstein put it, “Lautrec opened vistas of depravity to Conder” (1d, p.72.) This doesn’t appear to have skewed his art–work unduly, though, for Conder’s “Pan” and his oil painting, “Two Nymphs in a Garden” (17) (Fig.20), to take another example, are arguably following a “respectable artistic tradition” when one considers that William Etty had painted “Sleeping Nymph and Satyrs” in 1828; Frederic Leighton, “Actaea, the Nymph of the Shore” in about 1868; and Edward Poynter, “The Cave of the Storm Nymphs” in 1902 – and that is to give but three examples from a very long list. Again, Conder’s oil painting “Les Baigneuses” (17) (Fig.21a) and his chalk drawing “Au Pays Bleu” (17) (Fig.21b) are no more scandalous than the Turkish Bath and harem interiors of Ingres, Chassériau, Gérôme, and other French orientalists. Again, it is difficult to see the water–colour “La Sieste” (The Siesta) (17) (Fig.21c) as anything more ‘scandalous’ than Manet’s “Olympia” (painted in 1863 and regarded as shocking because it was thought to portray a prostitute), or anything less ‘respectable’ than a parody of Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” (this, in contrast, being commonly glorified as “an allegory of marital love and fidelity” (18) rather than being classed as just a reclining nude.) Of course, the foregoing examples of Conder’s more erotic pictures are only ones that were decent enough for Gibson to publish back in 1914 (1e), so one does wonder what else Conder did that was never exhibited, still less published! (As is well known, Turner died leaving a large number of erotic sketches which John Ruskin, in his wisdom, destroyed in order to preserve the reputation of the artist (15b).) In about 1900 Conder’s friend, the artist William Orpen, did a wash–drawing titled “Conder and a Model” (Fig.22) which is one of those pictures worth more than a thousand words, I think. Consequently, I will leave readers to ponder on it, with no further comment from me. But to get back to blossom symbolism, I do not think I would argue, for example, that the blossom in Fig.20 is anything more than a decorative detail of an Arcadian scene whose main subject is a pair of naked nymphs.

But moving on, another of Conder’s favourite poets was Robert Browning, and his painting “A Toccata of Galuppi” (Fig.23), painted in 1900, takes its title from that of one of Browning’s poems. The poem recalls Galuppi’s skilful musical pictures about, and played on the clavichord at, the carnivals of Venice. But there is a message in his music, unperceived by most of his listeners – that their pleasures are fleeting, and that death awaits them all:

Then they left you for their pleasure: till in due time, one by one,
Some with lives that came to nothing, some with deeds as well undone,
Death stepped tacitly and took them where they never see the sun.

We know from one of Conder’s own letters that his painting does indeed refer directly to this poem (1d. 179–180), and though it could in theory be a simple “getting ready for the carnival” picture, this seems unlikely given the sinister undertones of both the picture and the poem. But what exactly did Conder intend to convey ? The poem, like so many of Browning’s, is itself rather a blurred vision, open to differing interpretations in its details, and Conder’s painting is even worse in this respect. One can interpret it in various ways depending on the answers to some questions – is the naked girl dressing, or undressing, for example ? Why is her face hidden ? What is the masked woman doing with her right arm, and is her mask just a mask or does it represent something more sinister ? (Compare Fig.8b, perhaps.) Again, why is the principal figure staring ahead with such a doll–like expression ? Galbally, admitting that the picture’s references to the poem are “elliptical rather than direct”, sees the three figures as “an allegorical image of youth, beauty and death” (1a, p.214.) Rothenstein, whilst admitting “that there is no image in Browning’s poem to which the picture precisely corresponds”, suggests that the picture is “a translation of one of the poet’s images, the implications of the four (sic) last lines which contain the essence of the poem” (1d, p.180–1):

“Dust and ashes!” So you creak it, and I want the heart to scold.
Dear dead women, with such hair, too – what becomes of all the gold
Used to hang and brush their bosoms ? I feel chilly and grown old.

But not all interpretations can be correct, and we must beware of wild guesses: recall Turner’s complaint against Ruskin! On the other hand, given the nature of Browning’s poem, we know that there must be an Omarian undercurrent somewhere in the picture. Conder might, for example, have had verses 23 & 24 of FitzGerald’s fifth edition in mind when he pondered the above quoted lines of Browning and painted “A Toccata of Galuppi”:

And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom,
Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend – ourselves to make a Couch – for whom ?

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer and – sans End!

Or again, he might not – all we know for certain is that he had Browning’s poem in mind, plus he didn’t illustrate these verses in the Macmillan Rubaiyat he gave to MacColl.

In this respect, one other painting of Conder’s – or rather, Galbally’s interpretation of it – remains to be considered. This is “L’Oiseau Bleu” (“The Blue Bird” – Fig.24), painted on silk in 1895. It is one of a number of such paintings on silk which Conder produced in the 1890s and early 1900s, many of which were (like Fig.18) designs for fans. Galbally associates “L’Oiseau Bleu” with verse 7 of FitzGerald’s fifth edition in the following passage (19):

The subject made topical but non–specific reference to the new play The Blue Bird by the Belgian Symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, which had successfully premiered in London in April. Maeterlinck, who had featured in Arthur Symons’ collection of essays, The Decadent Movement in Literature along with Verlaine, Huysmans and Mallarmé, had visited London for the premiere. William Rothenstein met his future wife, the actress Alice Knewstub known as Kingsley, at the reception given for him. Although there is no direct evidence, it would seem highly likely that Conder attended a performance of the play. However, in typically allusive fashion The Blue Bird does not illustrate any particular episode from the plot – a rather artificially contrived search by two children for the meaning of life – but rather offers Conder’s own parallel comment on the subject with a further allusion to Omar Khayyam’s ‘blue bird on the wing’ flying high above the heads of the social group in one of Conder’s artificial gardens.

Firstly, Conder’s painting “The Blue Bird” cannot be related to Maeterlinck’s play of the same name: Conder’s painting was done in 1895, but Maeterlinck’s play, which was largely written in 1905, was first performed in Moscow only in 1908, and in London only in 1909. Maeterlinck’s visit to London in 1895 was to see performances of “The Intruder” and “Pelléas and Mélisande”, not of “The Blue Bird.” (20a). There was a much earlier fairy story titled L’Oiseau Bleu which had been published by Madame d’Aulnoy in 1697. It was translated into English by Andrew Lang and published as the opening story in his Green Fairy Book, first published in 1892. But Conder’s painting seems to bear little or no relation to this story (20b) beyond the presence of a Blue Bird in it. The Blue Bird, in fact, has a long and complicated symbolic history relating to the pursuit of happiness – both generally and in various aspects of it – hope, health, longevity, prosperity, domestic harmony, successful child–birth and so forth (20c). Thus, in Maeterlinck’s play the search for the Blue Bird operates on several different symbolic levels, one of which is the pursuit of happiness, and another, as Galbally indicates, the pursuit of “the great secret of all things.” The Blue Bird in Madame d’Aulnoy’s story, in contrast, is symbolically related to frustrated True Love, again linked to the search for happiness. So, what of Conder’s Blue Bird ? So far as I know, he never specifically said what the Blue Bird in his painting signified, but we perhaps get a clue from something he said in a letter to Will Rothenstein written in May 1898:

I am going to try my luck again in Paris though at present it doesn’t look very feathery. The Blue Bird’s moulting like fun. (1d, p.147.)

Though this isn’t as clear as one would like, it does at least suggest that the picture may well relate to the pursuit of happiness / pleasure / prosperity, the scene being set in Conder’s 18th century French Arcadia, or in some similarly romanticised past, (cf. Figs.7–10 — browse.)

Secondly, returning to the quote from Galbally above, the relevant lines in verse 7 of FitzGerald’s fifth edition are:

The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter – and the Bird is on the Wing.

This is the Bird of Time, note, not a Blue Bird of Happiness, nor a Blue Bird of any other description, so it seems to take Conder’s allusiveness a bit too far to link this painting to FitzGerald. The picture seems much more likely to be related to the pursuit of happiness in an antique setting, and a close relative of it is surely “The Blue Birds Fan”, painted in about 1899 (Fig.25.) For myself, I would regard this fan as depicting two young women in an idealised rose garden, musing perhaps about love, as represented in the central panel, the Blue Birds being those associated with hoped–for happiness in love. Hoff, however, links this fan to FitzGerald’s Bird of Time (she uses the wording of verse 7 of FitzGerald’s first edition) thus:

As concerns birds, Conder was fond of quoting Omar Khayyam’s line: ‘The Bird of Time has but a little way to fly – and lo, the Bird is on the Wing.’ Like blossoms, birds are symbols of transience. It is perhaps not by chance, that in this fan, the woman on the right holds her forelock in her hand: in an allusion to elusive fortune. (1c, p.69.)

But the link is tenuous at best, as a comparison of the girl on Conder’s fan with some images of the forelock of Time / Opportunity readily shows – see the end of Appendix 14b. It is interesting, though, that in the realm of the Chinese goddess Xi Wangmu, whose messengers were Blue Birds (20c), a thousand earth–years were as a single moment, like the chirp of a cricket. However, I personally would regard this Time–association as more fortuitous than significant, and would continue to see the Blue Birds in Fig.25 as symbolic of happiness rather than of the fleeting passage of time or the elusiveness of fortune. Personally speaking, I would class Conder’s ‘girl toying with her hair’ as a relative of Frederick Sandys’ “Proud Maisie” (c.1867) and, perhaps, of Rossetti’s “Lady Lilith” (1866–8.)

Again, we should perhaps note that Conder also produced a lithograph bearing the title “The Blue Bird (A Dream of Araby)” – at least, according to one exhibition catalogue.(10c) No image of it is available, but we do have a description of it by Campbell Dodgson, though under the shorter title “A Dream of Araby” (with ne’er a blue bird in sight):

A sultana, lightly draped, lies in the open air on a low couch under trees, her head overhung by a rose bush. A bird alights on her left hand as she raises it; its fellow hovers in the air. A maid in an Oriental head–dress watches her mistress from the foot of the couch. A barque floats on the calm sea, and a white palace rises in the distance. (1d, p.250–1; 1e, p.84.)

Where the blueness of the bird cited in the catalogue of note 10c came from, then, is a mystery, and I mention it only for the sake of completeness.

Finally, let us return to Fig,13a and what seems to be a blue bird in the far distance. It can hardly be the Bird of Time, for that is surely depicted in Fig.13d. Rather more likely, it seems to me, is that this blue bird relates to the distant hope of happiness of the girl depicted looking at a living rose, and with the petals of a dying rose falling upon her. Of course, at this point, I naturally recall Turner’s comment on Ruskin’s interpretations of his paintings, so I wouldn’t press the point.


Note 1a: Ann Galbally, Charles Conder: the Last Bohemian (2002);

Note 1b: Charles Conder by Ann Galbally and Barry Pearce, with a contribution from Barry Humphries (2003). (This was actually the illustrated catalogue of a touring exhibition of Conder’s work in Australia in 2003–4.)

Note 1c: Ursula Hoff, Charles Conder (1972)

Note 1d: John Rothenstein, The Life and Death of Conder (1938) this being particularly useful for its listing of works by Conder (p.243–289), including a descriptive list of lithographs compiled by. Campbell Dodgson (p.243–256.) John Rothenstein was the son of Conder’s friend, Will Rothenstein, or Sir William Rothenstein as he subsequently became when he achieved respectability and was knighted in 1931.

Note 1e: Frank Gibson, Charles Conder – his Life and Work (1914), this also being useful for its listing of works by Conder, again partly by Campbell Dodgson (p.73–110.) It is also very useful for its 120 illustrations, many being photographs of works by Conder images of which are not otherwise available. Gibson had the advantage of knowing Conder since meeting him in Melbourne in 1888.

Note 2: By way of an update, Galbally (as note 1a, p.41–2) says that there whereabouts of the painting “remains one of the great Conder mysteries.” (It was certainly missing by the nineteen thirties – see note 1d, p.32.) This is because the painting only resurfaced from private ownership in 2006, after Galbally’s book (and the Catalogue cited in note 1b) had appeared. It was purchased at auction by the National Gallery of Australia (Important Australian Art, Sotheby’s Australia, Melbourne, 11/04/2006, Lot no.5), its accession number being NGA 2006.386. My thanks are due to Helen Hyland, Senior Librarian at the NGA, for supplying this information.

Note 3a: The title of the aria, “Ombra mai fu” comes from the lines “Ombra mai fu / di vegetabile / cara ed amabile / soave piu”, which translate as, “Never was a shade / of any plant / dearer and more lovely / or more sweet.”

Note 3b: So–called because many of the pictures were painted on cedar cigar–box lids which measured 9 inches by 5 inches. (1d, p.33) “A Dream of Handel’s Largo” is one such.

Note 4: Absinthe is credited with actually having some hallucinogenic effects, though it is also said that these have been exaggerated. Some say that the thujone component of its wormwood content is responsible for some hallucinogenic properties. others that it is the anethol content combined with alcohol, whilst others deny there are any real hallucinogenic effects at all. Be that as it may, the likes of Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Toulouse Lautrec, Alfred Jarry, and Edgar Allen Poe – plus Conder himself, of course – all regarded absinthe as a sort of passport to a dream state of heightened inspiration. There is no smoke without fire, as the saying goes, so there must presumably be some basis for the drink’s reputation, even if only via the impurities in cheaper versions of it, or via the delirium tremens resulting from overindulgence in its more potent versions. Whatever the truth, it was known to its devotees as “the Green Fairy”, and the French artist Albert Maignan did a painting of her ensnaring a poet, “La Muse Verte” (The Green Muse) of 1895 (Fig.26a), ensnaring being the key word here, for it was always recognised that absinthe had its destructive side, as indeed Maignan’s picture indicates. The dangers of absinthe were even more graphically illustrated by the French artist Joseph Apoux in his picture “L’Absinthe”, thought to date from the 1890s (Fig.26b.) It is worth bearing in mind that the poets, writers and artists mentioned above as devotees of the Green Fairy all died young, though not, of course, solely on account of drinking absinthe, and Verlaine did make it to 51! For a very readable account of the drink, its history, its influence in art and poetry, and the claims and counter–claims regarding its hallucinogenic effects, see Barnaby Conrad III, Absinthe: History in a Bottle (1988).

Note 5: Toulouse Lautrec actually included Conder as a background figure in several of his paintings at the Moulin Rouge – an example can be found in Rothenstein, 1d, facing p.53, here reproduced as Fig.27. Conder is the man on the extreme right, wearing the hat. In addition to guiding Conder round the flesh–pots of Paris, Lautrec was also instrumental in arranging the Conder–Rothenstein exhibition at the Père Thomas Gallery in Paris in March 1892. Lautrec is apparently the seated figure watching the Can–Can dancer to the lower right of “A Dream in Absinthe” (Fig.6; 1a, p.83.)

Note 6: Galbally (1a, p.143) says that Dowson translated Perrault’s version for John Lane, but in the Catalogue (1b, p.169) she says that he translated Madame de Villeneuve’s version for Leonard Smithers, and that this was published in 1897. She adds (1b, p.197, catalogue entry no.101) that Dowson’s translation of Madame de Villeneuve’s version was published by Lane in 1908, repeating that the first edition had been published in 1897. Clearly something is amiss here. Firstly, it seems to be correct that Dowson used Madame de Villeneuve’s version, not Perrault’s. Secondly, James G. Nelson, Publisher to the Decadents – Leonard Smithers in the Careers of Beardsley, Wilde, Dowson (2000) does not list Beauty and the Beast amongst Smithers’ publications, in 1897 or indeed in any other year. The only translation of Dowson’s that Conder illustrated for Smithers was La Fille aux Yeux d’Or, published at the end of 1896 (Nelson p.331, entry 1896.12.) Thirdly, the only edition of the Dowson–Conder edition of Beauty and the Beast which shows up on COPAC is the John Lane edition of 1908, and I have been unable to find any earlier edition at all. True, Gibson (1e, p.109) gives the publication date of the John Lane edition as 1898, but I can find no trace of this elsewhere, and assume that it is simply a mistake..

Note 7a: These were i) “Design for a Fan” (vol. 4, Jan 1895, p.191); ii) “Souvenir de Paris” (vol.6, July 1895, p.253); iii) “Windermere” (vol.10, July 1896, p.286); iv) “Recreations of Cupid” (Fig.8a) and “A Romance” (vol.11, Oct 1896, p.91); v) “The Fairy Prince” and “A Masque” (Fig.8b) (vol.13, Apr 1897, p.285.)

Note 7b: These were i) “Mandoline” (Fig.10), an illustration for a translation by Arthur Symons from Verlaine’s Fêtes Galantes (in issue 1, Jan 1896, p.43); ii) the frontispiece of the book La Fille aux Yeux d’Or, mentioned in the text above (in issue 4, Aug 1896, p.43.)

Note 8a: As Gibson tells us, an illustrated report on the exhibition was given in the periodical L’Art Français, and luckily “Almond Trees in Flower” was one of the works illustrated. The review and picture can be found in the issue of April 2nd, 1892 (issue no.258) and my thanks are due to Michael Behrend for locating a copy.

Note 8b: In about 1898 Conder did a rather curious semi–abstract water colour titled “Death and the Rose” – see Rothenstein, as note 1d, facing p.144 & Gibson, as note 1e, plate LXIV (here Fig.28)

Note 8c: Ann Galbally (as note 1a, p.93) applies these same lines to Conder’s other painting “Fruit Trees in Blossom, Algiers” (Fig.14), but I’m not clear on what basis, as the lines are certainly not on this painting, as they are in the case of “Almond Trees in Flower.” There is not necessarily a contradiction here, of course – the same lines could easily have inspired more than one painting. But I am curious to know on what basis Galbally knows that these lines inspired “Fruit Trees in Blossom, Algiers” given the absence of the lines on the painting. Has she merely confused the painting with the drawing, I wonder ?

Note 9: “Memories of the ‘Nineties: Two Summers with Conder,” published in The London Mercury for January 1939 (p.287–296.) It was MacColl, too, who wrote an early appreciation of the artist’s work, “The Paintings on Silk of Charles Conder”, published in The Studio in 1898 (vol.13, p.232–239.)

Note 10a: Catalogue of an Exhibition of Original Works by Charles Conder, with an Introduction by Martin Birnbaum (New York, Berlin Photographic Company, 305 Madison Avenue, 1913.) “For a Quatrain of Omar” is no.17 in the Catalogue, and is listed as having been “lent by Miss M. E. Lowndes.” This picture appears not to be listed in any of the sources mentioned in note 1. The Introduction to the Catalogue was “reprinted with slight additions from the preface to the Catalogue of the American Exhibition of Conder’s Works in 1911.”

Note 10b: My thanks are due to Annette Ross, the Church Administrator, for supplying this information. In the MacColl Archive at Glasgow University is a letter from Conder’s wife, Stella, dated Feb. 22nd 1909, some 10 days after the funeral, in which she apologises for not inviting MacColl to it, as it was “quite private”, as she was sure he would understand. She adds: “He lies in the old fashioned churchyard at Virginia Water between two trees & the forest at his back. It seemed more like dear Conder than these awful places one sees on the outskirts of London.” (MS MacColl C306) But alas, as Annette Ross tells me, this is not sufficient even to approximately pinpoint his grave, as modern redevelopments – new housing, tree clearance and expansion of the graveyard – have completely changed its 1909 appearance and surroundings.

Note 10c: This was no.24 in the Catalogue.

Note 11a: MacColl’s brief mention of Conder’s contribution to the exhibition of May 1892 can be found in his report in The Spectator for 18th June 1892, p.18–19. The article was reprinted in his book Confessions of a Keeper (1931), p.88–93, but this is his only mention of Conder in the whole book, unfortunately. For MacColl’s report on the May 1893 exhibition, which he wrote for L’Indépendance Belge, and which featured in the issue of 19th May 1893 (p.1), see 1a, p.106. [MacColl did apparently also submit a report on the 1893 exhibition to The Spectator, but it wasn’t used – see Maureen Borland, D.S. MacColl – Painter, Poet, Art Critic (1995), p.81.]

Note 11b: As note 1a, p.106–112 and note 1b, p.169 & p.197 (, but not illustrated in the book.) Unfortunately, MacColl makes no mention of the presentation in his article in The London Mercury (note 9 above), and though Borland’s biography of MacColl (note 11a above) covers the visit to Ste Marguerite–sur–Mer (p.82–3), it doesn’t mention the presentation either.

Note 11c: Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department houses a collection of some 6000 letters written to / by MacColl in the course of his career, and there is a useful online catalogue of them. The letter quoted here is MS MacColl M124. The projected edition is mentioned in 1a, p.112–3 & 1b, p.169.

Note 11d: In fact MacColl was never more than a minor poet, and an anthology of his work, titled simply Poems, was not to be published until 1940, and even then MacColl ended up paying Blackwells to publish it (Borland, as note 11a, p.318.) Like so many others, MacColl had been inspired to write war poetry from about 1915, and his Bull and Other War Verses was published by Constable in 1919 (Borland, as note 11a, p.215 & p.240.)

Note 12: See National Gallery, Millbank – Catalogue – Loan Exhibition of Works by Charles Conder (1868–1909) – Open July 1 – September 25, 1927. The Conder Rubaiyat is no.73 on p.14.

Note 13: “In Memory of Charles Conder”, published in The Burlington Magazine, vol.15, no.73 (April 1909), p.8–9 & p.12–5.

Note 14a: Herrick’s poem “To Daffodils” carries a similar theme of transience (“We have short time to stay, as you, / We have as short a spring”), but his most famous poem along these lines is undoubtedly the above–mentioned work, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”, with its opening line, “Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may.” See my Verse by Verse Notes (on the first edition) for verse 26. (Ann Galbally, in the book cited in note 1a, p.93, seems to confuse “To the Virgins” with “To Blossoms”.)

Note 14b: These are listed in Gibson, as note 1e p.93 & p.94, but no images are available. In fact, I have been unable to discover their present whereabouts, assuming they still exist.

Note 14c: See, for example, my Verse by Verse Notes (on the first edition) for verses 23, 26 & 51.

Note 15a: Walter Thornbury, Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A. (1877), p.286. See also the work cited in note 15b, p.xviii.

Note 15b: Anthony Bailey, Standing in the Sun: a Life of J.M.W. Turner (2013), p.408.

Note 16: From the notes on the sale of the painting at Sotheby’s in 2013. Gibson, as note 1e, lists “The Howe in Spring” as having been exhibited in 1909 (p.103) with another painting, “The Howe, Oxfordshire”, having been exhibited in 1906 (p.102).

Note 17: Undated, but listed in Gibson, as note 1e, p.106–7 as having been exhibited in the Leicester Galleries in January 1913. [On p.106 Gibson lists “Pan” (Fig.19) in the same way, but on p.108 indicates that this picture was – and still is – in the British Museum, the online catalogue giving its date as 1904. There is indeed a date next to Conder’s name at the lower left of the picture, but it is not at all clear, at least in Fig.19, which is plate XLIX in Gibson’s book.]

Note 18: This quote is taken from Marion Kaminski, Titian (1998), p.63.

Note 19: As note 1a, p.148. (See also as note 1b, p.142–3, where the verse is correctly quoted.)

Note 20a: Hoff too says that “the title l’oiseau bleu is that of a well–known play by the Belgian symbolist playwright, Maurice Maeterlinck, who may possibly have inspired this theme.” (1c, p.65) She is well aware that Maeterlinck’s play was first performed in 1908 (1c, p.94, n.53), but seems to think that Conder’s meeting with Maeterlinck in London in 1895 might rescue the connection. There is little doubt, however, that the play was only written in 1905, a decade after the meeting. See, for example, W.D. Halls, Maurice Maeterlinck (1960), p.83–4 and Bettina Knapp, Maurice Maeterlinck (1975), p.119.

Note 20b: The story involves a Prince Charming being turned into a Blue Bird for seven years to prevent him from wooing a wicked Queen’s beautiful step–daughter and to steer him instead towards her own ugly natural daughter. The ploy fails of course. Prince Charming ends up marrying the step–daughter and living happily ever after, with the wicked Queen dead, and her step–daughter turned into a Brown Owl (or a Sow ?) Make of that what you will.

Note 20c: In ancient Chinese mythology, for example, the goddess Xi Wangmu (or Hsi Wang Mu, old style) is regularly depicted as riding among the clouds on the back of a crane and accompanied by a flock of blue birds who serve as her messengers (like the doves of Venus.) As a goddess associated with the west, and therefore with death and the afterlife, she was said to determine the life span of human beings, hence her association with longevity and fate. Being a goddess she was popularly regarded as the special protector of women and girls, particularly in respect of marriage and childbirth. It is interesting that in Maeterlinck’s play the quest for the Blue Bird at one point involves remembrance of and communion with the dead, as well as communion with the souls of children waiting to be born.

Note 21: As this article was ‘going to press’ Barry Pearce drew my attention to Conder’s painting “Flowers in a Vase against a background of the Coastline of Mustapha, Algiers”, otherwise known by what is thought to be its original – and more cryptic – title, “The Hot Sands, Mustapha, Algiers” (Fig.29). It was painted in late 1891 to early 1892. Here again we have two (yellow) roses shedding their petals, stood with other flowers in a jug / vase very like that in Fig.13b. Conder himself referred to this container simply as “a pot.” In a letter to Rothenstein dated 23rd February 1892 he wrote of the picture: “I am painting also two roses in a pot on a rose tile terrace and away in the distance blue sea and Algiers.” (1d, p.78) Unfortunately that is all he said about the painting, so how “a rose tile terrace” led to “The Hot Sands” of the original title remains something of a mystery, as does the significance of the robed figure leaning over the parapet in the background. My thanks are due to Barry for supplying a copy of his article, “Recent Australian acquisitions, with notes on Charles Conder’s Algerian convalescence” (The Art Gallery of New South Wales Today, Special Issue, Art and Australia, vol.22, no.1, Spring 1984, p.57–62.) In it he naturally refers to Conder’s use of blossom as “an expression of the fragility of mortal existence” and it is particularly interesting that he refers to the falling petals of Fig.29 thus:

Weeping petals tumble to the base of the vase as if in response to a refrain from the lips of Verlaine, or Ernest Dowson:

Short summer–time and then, my heart’s desire,
The winter and the darkness; one by one
The roses fall, the pale roses expire
Beneath the slow decadence of the sun.

The quoted lines are the final verse of Dowson’s poem “Transition”, probably written in late December 1890.