Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 August 2015


(1899 - 1961)

oil on compressed card

50.0 x 39.5 cm

signed and dated lower left: HBadham 43

$25,000 - 35,000
Sold for $207,400 (inc. BP) in Auction 40 - 26 August 2015, Sydney

Sotheby's, Melbourne, 25 August 1998, lot 22 
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Herbert Badham had a familiar, intimate relationship with Sydney, the city of his birth and lifelong home. He was at ease in its streets, shops and bars and comfortable on its gleaming beaches. He brought his focused eye and trained hand to bear on every aspect of its daily life, taking pleasure in depicting the simple life of a great modern city. While the coming of war might have blighted his career prospects in what should have been his most productive years, he continued to work with dedication and single-mindedness on charming and stylish visions of his city. Badham is best known today for his complex figure compositions, often in public interiors, full of life and the bustle of the daily round, but he also produced many landscapes and cityscapes which showed his command both of atmospheric painting and clear, controlled draughtsmanship. 

Pitt Street was in Badham's day Sydney's principal thoroughfare, running south from Circular Quay all the way to Central station and beyond. Crowded with shoppers, business people and traffic, it had a bustle and excitement even in the straightened wartime years. In Pitt Street, Sydney, 1943, Badham has depicted that life at a distance, looking down from one of the tall buildings that line the central section of the street. Trams run busily below, serving what was then the nation's largest network, a service which peaked in the war years with an astonishing 405 million annual passenger journeys, yet was completely abandoned in the year of his death, 1961. The homely tram was for Badham a familiar and trusted servant of the people, so different to the evil Cyclops menacing the dark street life in Albert Tucker's Images of Modern Evil, being painted down in Melbourne. 

Badham has forsaken his favoured view of the street from the footpath to rise up and celebrate the facades of the tallest buildings; the great sweep of the street as it runs south toward Central. The tower clock tells us it is late morning and the western side of the street is bathed in bright sunshine, its clear light having just reached the pavement below. We might see that bright morning light as the hope of peace after four long years of war - a time in which Badham worked diligently to record the lives of his city, constrained and under rationing, but not without joy and pleasure. Painted just a year after Sydney came under direct attack from Japanese submarines, he chose a bright, positive and peaceful image, unlike Margaret Preston's fascination with the remnants of the defeated subs and views of a city under siege in such works as Sydney Post Office of 1942. The colour and vibrancy of Badham's Sydney was soon to come alive with a new generation of artists, back from the war and ready for a new and exciting post-war world. He was to teach many of them in his role at East Sydney Technical College, building on the artistic traditions he had documented in his two popular volumes on Australian Art.