On the Roof, 1928 signed and dated 'HBadham '28' lower left oil on canvas 59.0 x 90.0cm (23 1/4 x 35 7/16in).
PROVENANCE Society of Artists Annual Exhibition, Sydney Private collection Private collection, Sydney, acquired c.1963
EXHIBITED Society of Artists Annual Exhibition, Education Department, Sydney, 1928, cat. no. 120 (remnant of label attached verso) Herbert Badham 1899 - 1961, Wollongong City Gallery, New South Wales, 27 August - 4 October 1987; S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 10 October - 15 November 1987, cat. no. 2
LITERATURE 'Society of Artists, Annual Exhibition', The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 7 September 1928, p. 17 Christine Dixon and Christine France, Herbert Badham 1899 - 1961, Wollongong City Gallery, New South Wales, 1987, p. 6, 21 Miles Franklin and Dymphna Cusack, Pioneers on Parade, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, dustjacket (illus.)
If ever there was a time and a place to be a young painter in Australia it was the 1920s in Sydney. The Great War had ended and many artists returned home to a peaceful and thriving nation steadily being transformed by the new technology and innovation ushered in during the early decades of the 20th century. A new aesthetic valuing structuralism and tone left Impressionism behind and artists began to paint in the Modernist mode. Born in the fishing cove of Watson's Bay the year the world clocked over into the new century, Herbert Badham seemed to be destined to paint the daily life and times of Sydney leaving a scarce but important legacy of intimate and highly illuminating views of how it was to live during those flourishing interwar years. On the roof, 1928 is a celebratory image encapsulating the optimism and prosperity of the times and the sheer happiness Badham experienced in his own life that year. The scene takes place on the roof of Ard-Na-Lee, Crescent Avenue, Vaucluse, where Badham had recently moved with his new wife Enid, the couple having married in 1927. The woman in the blue dress and red cloche hat smiling out to the viewer is Enid, reclining in a deck chair atop her new marital home overlooking the sparkling harbour below. An avid golfer, in the foreground lie a set of clubs and to the right, Enid is joined by another modern woman reclining under a parasol styled with a highly fashionable geometric art deco print. By the end of the year the Badhams' daughter, Chebi was born. The painting exudes optimism and displays an intriguing alignment of femininity and 'feminism' in its placement of three women as central figures, at leisure and on top of their world.
When Badham painted On the Roof he was in his final year at Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School where he was taught by the great society painter George Lambert, whose studio he often shared. Like his mentor Lambert, Badham's immediate family were regularly the subject of his paintings and this work closely relates to Al Fresco, 1927 (State Library of New South Wales), which depicts Enid on the enclosed balcony of the Vaucluse apartment lunching with her mother, sister Esme and brother Reg. The same red enamel coffee pot is placed casually on the table in both Al fresco and On the Roof as is the 'Perfect' Robur nickel teapot, which was first manufactured in 1927. In his inimitable way, Badham, thus fuses Modernist still life values with classical portraiture creating what could be loosely described as the 'conversation piece' giving his work an intense sense of being of the moment. This fleeting, moment-in-time sense in the paintings comes from his auteur-like perspective, which suggest the artist has let us into a private and intimate world. He repeats this technique to significant effect in his masterpiece, the triple portrait Travellers 1933, which depicts his sister Nina and brother Maurice crowded into a Sydney tram surrounded by the textiles, style and customs of the time. On the roof, 1928 is thus a seminal work enriching our appreciation of Herbert Badham as an artist and deepening our understanding of Sydney life in the early decades of the 20th century.
Bonhams is grateful to Chebi Badham for her kind assistance with the research for this painting.