The Kenneth Stewart Collection of Conrad Martens

This was one of the largest collections of works by the great 19th century artist Conrad Martens, it was displayed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales for two months from the end of December 1979. The collection was acquired by Australian Consolidated Press Ltd, publishers of The Australian Women’s Weekly to be known as the Harry Chester Memorial Exhibition in honour of the late Harry Chester, who was Deputy Chairman of Australian Consolidated Press.

Mr Chester was instrumental in the purchase of the collection.

I arranged the sale to Australian Consolidated Press for $275,000 and sold the collection again through Angela Nevill to Alan Bond for $4 million in 1988.

Much to the delight of Mr Packer.

Tempe House was designed by John Verge and completed in May 1836 for Alexander Spark who was keen to establish a garden with exotic species before Martens painted the house. This is one of Marten’s best watercolours of a house based on a Grecian original in the Vale of Tempe. The sparkling white house with its triangular pediments and classical columns was set among exotic plants and English trees, with a long private jetty extending out into the Cook River.

Alexander Spark’s diary records that he was introduced to Martens on 7 April, 1836 by amateur artist Samuel Elyard. After a visit to Martens’ studio Spark’s diary reads ‘I am desirous of having Tempe taken but not until the leaves are lost and recovered.’ This was a reference to the deciduous trees and the orchard which Spark had planted to create a European ambiance. On 10 January 1838, Spark noted ‘Mr Martens, the artist drove to Tempe with me in the afternoon with the view of sketching it.

Martens sketched the house on 11th January (this drawing has been lost) and again on 22nd January. Spark was keen to watch the progress of his painting. On 1st February Spark visited Martens’ studio again and wrote in his journal ‘[I] saw his painting of Tempe nearly finished. It forms as beautiful a landscape I think as I have ever seen’. Martens charged him 12 guineas for the image.