Anglo-Australian painter Charles Conder (1868–1909) was one of the group of artists who painted plein-air landscapes around Sydney and Melbourne during the 1880s, and together with Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton (cat.31) was a major instigator of the 1889 ‘9 by 5 impressions’ exhibition in Melbourne. In 1890 he moved to Europe, where he made watercolours on silk and painted designs for fans which resulted in some of his most exquisite images. For a period from 1893 until his marriage in 1901 Conder moved between London, Dieppe and Paris, but by 1902 he had returned to London. In 1904 Sir Edmund Davis commissioned Conder to design a group of watercolours for the decoration of his drawing room and bedchamber in his home at 11–13 Lansdowne Road, Holland Park.
Lambert probably met Conder at this time through Sir Edmund and Lady Davis. They had extended their patronage to Lambert from 1902 until 1904 by lending him a studio in Lansdowne House, a block of flats at 80 Lansdowne Road, a short distance from their home. Conder was also a friend of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, who also had a studio in Lansdowne House. These artists all shared an interest in glamorous costume and in making reference to the paintings of earlier artists in their own work. On 10 December 1904, when Conder had completed his decorations for their house, the Davises held a party to celebrate the event, to which all the guests were invited to come in fancy dress. The Lamberts were probably included among their guests; it is also likely that the Lamberts were invited to Conder’s fancy dress party, held at his home at 91 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, a few months later on 18 February 1905.
In this remarkable portrait Lambert used relatively few strokes of the pencil to capture Conder’s character. He showed Conder from a distance, wrapped in a large sofa and immersed in a book. He observed small details such as his long eyelashes and the way in which loose strands of hair fell over his brow.