The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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McElhone stairs 1944
Painting, oil on canvas
68.8 h x 58.7 w cm
Purchased 1976
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Sali Herman

23 November 1978

James Gleeson: Well, I think we’ve covered that one fairly well, Sali. Let’s go on to another of your most famous ones, The McElhone steps.

Sali Herman: Yes, the McElhone stairs. That was my first Wynne Prize.

James Gleeson: It was? How many times did you win the Wynne?

Sali Herman: Four times.

James Gleeson: Four times.

Sali Herman: Four times.

James Gleeson: And that was the first one?

Sali Herman: That was the first one.

James Gleeson: Of course it was made famous by the fact that Bernard published it in colour in his now famous book.

Sali Herman: Yes, that’s right.

James Gleeson: And it was bought by Mrs Evatt, was it?

Sali Herman: Dr Evatt.

James Gleeson: Dr Evatt bought it.

Sali Herman: Dr Evatt, yes. Dr Evatt.

James Gleeson: And it came—

Sali Herman: I was very flattered. Not for the money I got, it was very little.

James Gleeson: Yes.

Sali Herman: I won’t mention it because whatever these people paid me I thought it was what they could afford. That’s all that mattered to me. But I was glad it went into their home. I knew Mrs Evatt from the George Bell School.

James Gleeson: Oh yes, of course, you studied with George Bell.

Sali Herman: Yes, I studied with George Bell. When I come to Australia at that time I couldn’t speak much English. She spoke a bit of French. Not better than I could in English, I have to say.

James Gleeson: So you met her first in 1937?

Sali Herman: Nineteen thirty-seven. Like Lady Casey, the same. She was the opposition but they worked together in one studio.

James Gleeson: I see.

Sali Herman: United. That’s right.

James Gleeson: The Evatt’s bought a number of your works?

Sali Herman: Yes, they did. They did. Another one which they bought is I think one of the paintings I like very much. It is called Near the docks.


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