From the earliest stages of his career, the art of Roland Wakelin displayed a radicalism and intelligence that marked him as a leading exponent of Sydney Modernism. A 1913 exhibition of paintings by Emmanuel Phillips Fox had a profound impact on the artist, introducing him to the possibilities of pure colour, and liberating his art from the strictures of a more conservative, academic tuition. Over the next five years, Wakelin continued to explore the possibilities of colour, with his collaboration with Roy de Maistre leading to his controversial and ground-breaking colour-music period of 1918-1919.
The catalogue to the 1919 exhibition, Colour in Art in which these colour-music works were displayed stated the fundamental importance of colour to the artists, who found in it "the conscious realisation of the deepest underlying principles of nature", "deep and lasting happiness" and "the very song of life" (in L. Walton, The Art of Roland Wakelin, Sydney, 1987, p.17). The artist was to adhere to these precepts throughout his career, and their impact can be seen in Paddington, painted fifty years later.
Throughout his career, Wakelin drew inspiration from Sydney, his home town. From early works including The Fruit Seller of Farm Cove (1915, National Gallery of Australia collection) and Down the Hills to Berry's Bay (1916, Art Gallery of New South Wales collection) to The Bridge Under Construction (c.1928-29, National Gallery of Victoria collection) and Double Bay Street Scene (c.1962, Private collection), the city remained an important source of subject-matter for the artist.
Here, Paddington's characteristic terrace houses are suffused with golden light, the steps, roofs and pavements made luminous with lapis blue and violet. The white clouds echo the shape of the roofline on the right, and also seem to billow from the central chimney. Two figures add life and movement to the scene and washing hangs on a line, reminiscent of celebratory bunting. The work is a joyous tour-de-force by an artist in the final stages of his career and when, for almost the first time, Wakelin had begun to receive the critical and popular acclaim that was so sorely overdue.