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Hal Hattam was an important member of the Melbourne modern art scene. In addition to being a successful painter, Hattam had a successful parallel career as obstetrician and gynecologist which provided him independent means to collect major works by several of his contemporaries including Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, John Perceval and Fred Williams.
Hattam was more than a patron. The artist joined Fred Williams and John Perceval on painting excursions at seminal periods in both Williams’ and Perceval’s careers. Hattam painted with Perceval in the mid to late 1950s during visits to Williamstown docks. During the 1960s Hattam joined Williams on field trips to regional Victoria including Lysterfield, the Dandenongs and Wheelers Hill. He also forged close friendships with colour-field abstractionists Dale Hickey and Robert Jacks and leading figurative painter John Brack. Hal Hattam was the subject of significant portraits by major artists including Fred Williams, John Brack and Clifton Pugh.
It was during the 1960s that Hattam forged his own stylistic interpretation of the Australian landscape. As opposed to Williams, whose primary subject was close-up scrub and country, Hattam found inspiration in broad seascapes and painted extensively around Shoreham, Victoria and Fraser Island, Queensland. Importantly, Hattam’s work evolved with the Australian art movement and the artist integrated key principals of colour-field abstraction into his landscape painting further defining his style.
From 1960 until his death in 1994, Hattam exhibited regularly at leading commercial galleries including South Yarra Galleries, Joseph Brown Galleries and Philip Bacon Galleries. In addition to enjoying significant commercial success, Hattam also received critical acclaim and his work is held in several important corporate, state and regional galleries collections. In 2003, a tribute retrospective of Hattam’s work was held at Heide Museum of Modern Art. The artist’s paintings have also sold through leading auction houses Christies and Sotheby’s.
Hattam assembled a fine collection of modern Australian art. He remained an impartial collector, favouring neither the figurative nor abstract schools. He was not swayed in his choices by the intense modernist debates that swirled around the Melbourne art scene from the mid 1950s through to the 1970s. Hal acquired paintings from the Antipodean – figurative painters who held steadfast to the image, including John Brack and Clifton Pugh through to the geometric abstractions and colour field painters such as Dale Hickey and Robert Jacks.
The Hattam family is acknowledged as being the first private collectors to completely embrace the art of Fred Williams, collecting a significant group of paintings from 1958 onwards.