Zurich, Switzerland 1898 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1993
Saturday morning [formerly: Paddington Neighbours] 1948 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on plywood
Saturday morning shows a family sitting on the front porch of an inner Sydney terrace, chatting to a neighbour. It is a quiet suburban scene of a family relaxing in the immediate post-war era, but it could be anywhere at any time. Such scenes were relatively new subjects for Australian art when Sali Herman began to paint them in 1939 – a comment on how people lived in lower-class suburbs, reflecting an interest in the daily life of ordinary people.
Herman was genuinely captivated by the buildings and life in the high-density suburbs of inner Sydney. He commented: ‘An old man or an old woman may not be attractive but may have beauty in their characters. So it is with houses. When I paint them I look for the character, regardless of prettiness or dirty walls.’1 Later he noted, ‘I had no “philosophy of slums”. I painted houses, because houses are parts of people and people parts of houses.’2 Herman’s paintings convey the joy and magic he found in his immediate surroundings. He said:
‘It is … not by any intention that I painted streets, it was simply because I loved them … I would never paint anything unless it does something to me, and it is this, what it does to me, I tried to convey in my paintings’.3
Other artists were also interested in such subjects, with the Melbourne social realist Yosl Bergner portraying life in that city. Bergner and Herman both arrived in Melbourne in 1937 and began to create works which fused their European backgrounds with their Australian experience. They were accustomed to an urban-focused life and economy and inevitably sought subjects that reminded them of home. But whereas Bergner showed his people as victims, losers in a class struggle, Herman portrayed them as being comfortable and at ease. He valued these people and the sense of community they created, gathered together in the narrow streets.
1Sali Herman, quoted in the Bulletin, 20 December 1948
2Sali Herman, quoted in ‘New Art and Old Sydney’, Nation, 8 November 1958
3Sali Herman, interview with Hazel de Berg, 3 November 1965, Hazel de Berg Collection, National Library of Australia
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002