Spotlight on: Herbert Badham

Herbert Badham, Breakfast piece, 1936. Image: © AGNSW and the Estate of Herbert Badham.

Apart from a brief exploration with abstraction in the 1950s, Herbert Badham remained first and foremost a realist painter. His subject was the everyday. With influences coming from England, Badham gave great importance to form, tone, and light from an early age. Rather than following the Heidelberg School’s favouritism of pastoral landscapes, Badham and his peers instead focused on the urban landscape and interior scenes whilst remaining within the acceptable conservative space that their English counterparts proposed. The aesthetic experiments that artists of this period conducted were done with typically mundane objects – vases, food, cups, bottles and other domestic debris. No longer was still life painting tied to allegorical meaning, the modern still life was a study of everyday existence.

In 1932, Herbert Badham was recognised as the runner up to William Dobell in the New South Wales Travelling Art Scholarship. Four years later, Badham completed one of his most recognised paintings, Breakfast Piece 1936, now in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In this particular realist painting, the objects appear as props, theatrically posed in perfect design just as Badham preferred. His wife sits front and centre amongst the arrangement of objects, amidst a simplified colour palette of fresh blues, whites, and yellows.

Lot 30 HERBERT BADHAM (1899-1961) (Still Life with Butter and Apples) c.1930 Estimate: $20,000-25,000

Still Life with Butter and Apples c.1930 (lot 30 in our 1st December Fine Art Sale) is one of Herbert Badham’s few known still life studies although objects of the domestic interior form a key part of many of his most recognised paintings. Badham’s academic training is abundantly clear, with front-on perspective and a focus on form and shadowing of these carefully arranged objects. The colour palette and subjects draw parallels to Cezanne whilst the formal proportions and perspective remain academically realist. Similar to Breakfast Piece 1936, the knife, too, is resting near the clean cut butter waiting to be spread. These rather simple objects are given great importance within the composition, perhaps indicative of the value of such products after the war. Both paintings portray a domestic tranquility where objects typically seen as mundane create a stylised portrayal of Badham’s everyday life.

Olivia Fuller, Head of Art

November 2020