Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 August 2012


(1904 - 1984)

oil on composition board

33.0 x 84.0 cm

signed with initials lower right: JP
signed and titled verso: Boys looking for bait / J. Passmore

$60,000 - 80,000
Sold for $60,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 26 - 29 August 2012, Melbourne

Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne
Wesfarmers Art Collection, Perth, acquired from the above in 1986 (label attached verso)


Spring Exhibition, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 1978, cat. 113 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)
The Song of the Lamb: The Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 19August – 2 October 1989


Gooding, J., Topliss, H., Sharkey, C., and Horridge, N., The Song of the Lamb: The Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 1989, p. 89 (illus.)

Catalogue text

The waters of Sydney Harbour and nearby beaches fascinated John Passmore as seen in his many paintings of bathers and such works as Harbourside 1952 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) and The Argument 1953 (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney). In 1954 he moved from Sydney to Newcastle for eighteen months, teaching painting and drawing at the Technical College. During this highly creative time he enjoyed the life of the Newcastle docks and was drawn to its great beaches and the waters of nearby Lake Macquarie. Crowds gathered on the wharves to fish, and the beaches' rocky outcrops provided ideal places to fossick for bait, shells and crabs. These paintings are among the best of the fifties, classic examples being The Fish Stealer 1954 in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and Boys Fossicking for Mussels c1955, formerly in the collection of Dr Joseph Brown, Melbourne. Another, South Wind on the Beach 1955, in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, brilliantly portrays the southerly buster as a melee of waves, sand and people. Boys Looking for Bait c1954 belongs to this prestigious group. Passmore thought so highly of it that he painted two versions.

When the Art Gallery of Western Australia acquired Passmore's slightly smaller version, also titled Boys Looking for Bait 1954, through the Sydney Ure Smith Memorial Fund, Passmore responded to the then director, Laurie Thomas's letter "'I am glad you like the Boys looking for bait. The little spontaneous is often still alive when the more ambitious is forgotten. My own first thought that it was too slight has already given way.'1 Painted with such immediacy and vivacity, it verges on abstract expressionism. Passmore added, 'The change of context to Newcastle might bring about changes in painting, giving the push to what was ready for happening.'2 Our painting, by comparison, is more considered in its handling, providing greater figurative definition and amusing narrative. The handling of the paint, often in broad horizontal strokes, and the disbursement of the figures effectively captures the movement of the sea, breaking waves, and the business of the fossickers. Passmore occasionally enjoyed painting variations on a theme. The Art Gallery of New South Wales has two versions of The Argument 1953, each similar though strikingly different. For Passmore, it was not so much the engaging subject that interested him. Rather, it was the way it was realised as a construct of cubist form and colour, enlivened by the freedom and surety of his brush strokes. Abstract as many of his paintings are, his art, nevertheless is firmly anchored in figuration.

1. Passmore, J., letter to Laurie Thomas, written from the Star Hotel, Newcastle, 29 November 1954, quoted in Pearce, B., John Passmore, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1984, p. 63
2. Ibid.