Sidney Nolan OM AC KB RA

Of Irish origin, Sidney Nolan was born in Melbourne, Australia on 22nd April 1917. During his lifetime he became recognised as one of the foremost international modern artists.

In his youth during the 1940s, Sidney painted his famous series of paintings inspired by the life of the outlaw Ned Kelly. At this time he was one of a group of painters in Australia who became known as the Angry Penguins. Before setting out for England, he travelled throughout Australia working on several remarkable sequences of paintings, the most notable of which depicts the landscape of the interior.

Sidney arrived in London in 1951. He began to travel extensively in Europe and in 1956 he moved to Greece where he spent a year painting themes derived from Greek Mythology. He also spent time at Studio 17 in Paris studying engraving and lithography with S.W.Hayter.

Nolan was awarded a Harkness Fellowship in 1958 to study in the United States. During the two years he spent there, he formed a close friendship with the American poet Robert Lowell and illustrated several books for him.

In England, Sidney became a regular visitor to the Aldeburgh Festival (then in its formative years) and developed a strong relationship with Benjamin Britten, exhibiting paintings inspired by Britten’s works in the festival exhibitions. In 1973, Faber Music Limited published a fine limited facsimile edition of the original score of Britten’s music for Berthold Brecht’s “Children’s Crusade” illustrated by Sidney Nolan.

Sidney’s desire to see the world was insatiable and took him beyond Europe to Africa, China and Antartica. He painted many remarkable series of works inspired by these vast continents. However, Sidney’s affection for Australia and sense of his Australian nationality was strong, and he was drawn to return for a least a few months of every year.

Major retrospective exhibitions of Sidney Nolan’s work have been held in Sydney in 1967, in Melbourne in both 1987 and 1992, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1957 and in Dublin at the Royal Dublin Society in 1973. Important exhibitions of his early work have been held at Institute of Contemporary Art in London in 1962 and later in 1994 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Sidney’s work is widely represented in the state galleries of Australia, the regional art galleries in the U.K. as well as the Tate Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Pittsburgh Museum of Art and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Exhibitions relating to particular aspects of Sidney’s work or specific series of his paintings have been seen throughout Australia and the United Kingdom and in many major cities in Europe and the United States. The Australian Government honoured Sidney with a gallery in Canberra which bears his name and to which he donated paintings that are displayed as a permanent exhibition.

During the summer of 1983 when Sidney settled on the borders of Wales, he expressed the sense of belonging once again to a landscape of great magnitude quoting a line he had written in his youth, “All was static and monumental with the first of the dawn”.

At sixty he felt compelled to devote himself again to the ideas that had preoccupied him as a young man, and in his studio at the Rodd he worked on paintings relating to those abstract themes. For Sidney these paintings were a particularly important aspect of his life’s work.

Sidney Nolan was knighted in 1981 and was awarded the Order of Merit in 1983. He was made a Companion of the Order of Australia, elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a member of The Royal Academy of Arts. He died in London on 28th November 1992. 

Supported By

Arts Council England