Arriving in Australia as an adolescent in 1884, Charles Conder became one of the key founders of the Heidelberg school of Australian impressionism. He returned to Europe six years later to become a legendary figure of the fin de siècle, mixing with leading artists and writers including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Oscar Wilde.
Exhibited in Sydney in 1888, 'Departure of the Orient – Circular Quay' was Conder’s impressive artistic debut. With its silvery-grey tonality, contrasted with touches of brilliant colour, the work reflects the influence of Whistler and the principles of Aesthetic painting. Conder’s interest in Japanese art – or Whistler-inspired Japonisme – with its large, empty spaces, is also paramount.