From Herbert Badham to Matthew Martin: the fine art of drawing & painting pools

Drawing by Matthew Martin at Wylie's Baths Coogee.

Last weekend when I visited the State Library of NSW’s Paintings from the Collection exhibition, I was taken with a painting called The Swimming Enclosure by artist Herbert Badham

The Swimming Enclosure (detail) by Herbert Badham, painted in 1941 and part of the State Library of NSW's collection, photo taken by Therese Spruhan, 13 October 2018

It’s thought to be a depiction of the netted swimming area at Parsley Bay in Vaucluse near where the artist and his wife Enid lived, and in the left foreground Enid is featured wearing red swimmers and a large sun hat. Although it was completed in 1941, more than 50 years after the French Impressionist Georges Seurat was painting, the brush strokes in the water reminded me a little of his pointillism style.

Detail of The Swimming Enclosure by Herbert Badham (1941) part of the State Library of NSW's art collection, photo taken 13 October by Therese Spruhan

Another pool painting that caught my eye was an 1881 depiction of the Old Domain Baths by an artist with the initials EFB.  In the painting we look through the trees to the western side of Woolloomooloo Bay where the baths were built in 1858 and where the Andrew Boy Charlton Pool is located today.  The work has a soft, European feel that was typical of artists in the Sydney colony in the first half of the nineteenth century. The exhibition’s digital program said Sydney City Council built the free baths as a public health measure and although some people swam there, most used the baths to keep clean in the days before indoor plumbing.

Old Domain Baths by EFB, part of the State Library of NSW's art collection, photo taken 13 October 2018 by Therese Spruhan

Before I left the library, I bought a postcard of Herbert Badham’s The Swimming Enclosure and when I walked out on to Macquarie Street, I started thinking about all the artists I’d discovered on Instagram who paint and draw pools like Gina Fishman.

Bondi Fast Lanes by Gina Fishman
Bondi Fast Lanes by Gina Fishman

Then there’s Rachel Milne, Nick Hollo, Jennifer Baird, Clara Adolphs, Vicki Ratcliff, Jennifer Lia,  Julia Nicholson and Elizabeth Langreiter just to name a few.

Lap Pool by Rachel Milne
Laps at New Lambton Pool by Rachel Milne.

I love all their work but a particular favourite is cartoonist and artist Matthew Martin, who draws scenes at Coogee’s Wylie’s Baths.

Wylie's Baths, Coogee photo by Therese Spruhan

He’s been doing it for the past 15 years since he moved back to Sydney from New York and at the end of last year I met him at the Shapiro Gallery in Woollahra where he was exhibiting his work.

Cartoonist, Matthew Martin with some of the drawings in his exhibition at the Shapiro Gallery Woollahra, December 2018

He calls Wylie’s the most beautiful pool imaginable, a delight and an escape where he swims four times a week out of a pleasure and a need both physically and mentally. Sometimes he draws swimmers about to dive in the water, sitting by the side of the pool or battling the waves on a big sea day.

Drawing by Matthew Martin at Wylie's Baths Coogee.Other times he sketches the timber structures above and around the pool, the movement of the water and the sandstone rocks.

Wylie's Baths, Coogee by Matthew Martin.

I love the simplicity of Matthew’s drawings and the way he catches a moment in time, just before a swimmer dives in or as they lift their arm and turn their head to breath.

Drawings by Matthew Martin at Wylie's Baths Coogee.

“At Wylie’s I just try and make a beautiful drawing of what I see in front of me,” says Matthew.

Drawings by Matthew Martin, exhibited at the Shapiro Gallery Woollahra, December 2018

“Wylie’s has been a real delight and escape for me and I’m very happy and relaxed when I’m drawing there – it’s like a meditation.”

Drawing by Matthew Martin at Wylie's Baths Coogee.

In this video made for the Museum of Sydney’s exhibition, Sand in the City, December 2016-July 2017, Matthew talks more about his drawings and there’s beautiful scenes of Wylie’s Baths.


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  • I can remember swimming at the Domain sea baths in the summer of ’64. Fro memory you’d o nly get half a pool at low tide
    These memories siy a little clouded today, but i do recall listening to the Beatles singing ‘I Feel Fine’ on a little transitor radio on the wall through the Domain to our home in Palmer Street. Lovely memories
    John Signorile

    • Lovely memories John. My father learnt to swim there but many years before 1964. I grew up swimming at a tidal pool on Sydney’s northside at Northbridge and when it was low tide it was like the pool was cut in half. Definitely much nicer at high tide and even better at king tide. Thanks for taking the time to write a comment. All the best, Therese


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