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image icon 'A holiday at Mentone'

'A holiday at Mentone'
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is an oil painting, measuring 46.2 cm x 60.8 cm, by the Australian Impressionist artist Charles Conder (1868-1909), which depicts the popular Melbourne bayside beach of Mentone. It is a bright spring day in 1888, and a group of people have come to promenade and relax at the seaside. A footbridge, which divides the composition, offers a choice of views: through the supports to the beach beyond, dotted with people, up to the footbridge with its set piece of figures posed conveniently on the left to balance the bathing enclosure on the right, and down to the three people in the foreground.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a critically acclaimed masterpiece of the Australian Impressionist style of painting
  • demonstrates a confident and inventive use of an Impressionist painting style and an awareness of modern design, including bright colours, coloured shadows and the use of structural items such as the footbridge and bathing enclosure (sea bath) on the right, to divide and flatten the composition
  • captures a mood of relaxation and casual elegance through the use of colour and the carefully composed figure groupings
  • shows the influence of Japanese art and culture on art of this period (an international trend of the late 19th century), via the upturned umbrella that looks like a Japanese printer's seal and the footbridge that subdivides the composition in a manner similar to that used in Japanese woodcuts - this 'bridge-in-the-sky' device was also adopted by the artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) in his Japanese-inspired art within the Aesthetic Movement; 'A holiday at Mentone' may have been inspired by Whistler's well-known paintings and etchings of Battersea Bridge
  • is a celebration of light, leisure and the beach - these young Australians are learning to become beach-goers and sun-worshippers
  • records the visual features of Mentone, a site made popular and famous through its association with the Heidelberg School landscape artists working in 'plein air' (open air) styles
  • communicates a strong sense of the artist's youthful enthusiasm (he had just celebrated his twentieth birthday), technical flair and eye for fashion - Conder produced a number of similar subject paintings while working in association with other members of the Heidelberg School of artists
  • references 'The Bulletin' magazine (the woman in the foreground and the man lying down at the centre of the work both have copies of this magazine) - 'The Bulletin' was known as 'The bushman's bible', since it celebrated outback life and culture
  • references social conventions of the period - bathing was segregated and took place at busy beaches in bathing enclosures, such as that shown (in part) on the right of the work
  • is an image that continues to intrigue generations of viewers - the curious drama in the foreground, involving three people who may or may not be aware of each other, poses several questions: Is the man lying on the sand just sleeping? Will the young woman ever notice that her umbrella has blown away? Will the self-important young man (standing at right) retrieve it and introduce himself?