#Nolan 100

No.13 Untitled (Catani Arch, St Kilda) - David Rainey


No.13 Untitled (Catani Arch, St Kilda) - David Rainey

Sidney Nolan was born the very same day Carlo Catani turned 65 and retired from the Public Works Department in Melbourne.

The Florence-born engineer’s last major project had been reclamation of the St Kilda foreshore as a public space. His elegant arched footbridge linking the sea baths and tea rooms was built in 1916.

Much frequented by Nolan throughout his life, Catani Arch is captured evocatively in this little known 1942 painting.

Appropriately, given he knew Mary Boyd when he painted it and 36 years later she became his third wife, this work once graced the London home of the Boyd family.

Nolan grew up in St Kilda - in his words a ‘kitsch heaven’. Luna Park and its Big Dipper, the Palais Theatre, the Pier, Catani Gardens, the Esplanade - all promised youthful excitement and mature nostalgia.

He was 25 when he painted Catani Arch. For a year he had lived in a ménage à trois with John and Sunday Reed at Heide having finally accepted the reality that his marriage to Elizabeth Paterson was finished. What was more, Australia was at war, Japanese forces were advancing, he had been drafted into the army and stationed in the Mallee district of Western Victoria. The past was past, the present had its allure, but the future seemed bleak.

The painting though, reflects little of this. Rather, drawing on that ‘rare lyrical talent’ recognised in Nolan even then by fellow painter Albert Tucker, the work suggests a genius of vision that would soon blossom in his Wimmera paintings.

Painted on muslin covered board most likely prepared by Sunday Reed and taken to Nolan on a weekend visit, it displays ‘the radical flatness, high horizons, virtual absence of conventional linear perspective and bright primary colours’, recognised by Jane Clark in her 1987 Nolan retrospective Landscape and Legends as ‘interpreting the Australian landscape in an entirely new way.’

A colour-drenched work, with abstracted simplicity of form and Rouault-like outlining, Catani Arch’s gravel concourse and archway float diagonally like a yellow-frocked child.

Imagination is key. One can imagine Nolan here, a boy in his kitsch heaven; here, away from their parents, he and Elizabeth keep rendezvous; almost opposite, across the Esplanade in their Marli Place flat, their daughter is conceived; perhaps here, he and John Sinclair wonder at a full moon rising over the bay and he conjures up the iconic Moonboy image.

Here too, much later, he will walk with his daughter Amelda. Explaining to her the bitterness of his Paradise Garden verses about his Heide years and their acrimonious aftermath, he wrote ‘You remember walking by that little bridge below the Esplanade. I hope to one day write a book in which the poetry celebrates rather than castigates, and is more like what I thought about at eighteen standing by that bridge.’

And this painting of ‘that little bridge below the Esplanade’ does celebrate. It celebrates art, and life, and wonder. Nolan spoke of his own ‘wonders of the world’ in the 1987 poem Oz Digger and imagined them ‘sweet heaven in pieces.’ This surely is one of the pieces."

David Rainey is an independent Australian writer and researcher. He co-curated the exhibition Ern Malley: the Hoax and Beyond at Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2007. His main area of interest is the avant-garde art and literature of WW2 Melbourne and later. He maintains the website which centres mainly on Nolan and Heide, and also the Centenary website.

Untitled (Catani Arch, St Kilda), 1942, oil on cotton gauze on board, 37.0 x 45.5 cm, private collection, Canberra,© Sidney Nolan Trust 

No.1 - Four Abstracts - Alexander Downer

No.2 - Self Portrait - Angus Trumble

No.3 - Arabian Tree - Kendrah Morgan

No.4 Riverbend I - Francine Stock

No.5 - Desert - Andrew Logan

No.6 Dog and Duck - Jane Clark

No.7 Vivisector - Tim Abdallah

No.8 In the Cave - Rebecca Daniels

No.9 Young Soldier - Clare Woods

No.10 Ned Kelly - Shaun Gladwell

No.11 Bird - Deborah Ely

No. 12 Hare in Trap - Nicholas Usherwood

No.13 Untitled (Catani Arch, St Kilda) - David Rainey

No.14 Death of a Poet - Simon Martin

No.15 Study for Samson et Dalila - Elijah Moshinsky

No.16 Rimbaud at Harar - Edmund Capon AM OBE

No.17 Quilting the Armour - Jackie Haliday

No.18 Snake - David Walsh

No.19 Angel and the Tree - Dr Nicky McWilliam

No.20 Brian the Stockman at Wave Hill Mounting a Dead Horse - Damian Smith

No.21 Steve Hart Dressed as a Girl -Jennifer Higgie

No.22 Women and Billabong - Anthony Plant

No.23 Agricultural Hotel - Philip Mead

No.24 Policeman in a Wombat Hole - Kay Whitney

No.25 Peter Grimes - David Lipsey

No.26 Self Portrait in Youth - Barry Pearce & Duncan Fallowell

No.27 Riverbend I - Ian Dungavell

No.28 Drowned Soldier at Anzac as Icarus - Paul Gough

No.29 Thames - John Tooley

No.30 Girl - Amelda Langslow

No.31 Ned Kelly and Policeman - Daniel Crawshaw

No.32 Tarred and Feathered - Nick Cave

No.33 Self Portrait - Denise Mimmocchi

No.34 Peter Grimes's Apprentice - George Vass

No.35 The Emu Hunt - Roger Law

No.36 Luna Park - Paula Dredge

No.37 Rose in Coffee Pot - Anthony Collier

No.38 The Cardplayers - Nevin Jayawardena

No.39 Bathers - Lesley Harding

No.40 Aboriginal Girl - Jennie Milne

No.41 Pretty Polly Mine - Michael Brand

No 42. Roses in a Merric Boyd Vase - Jack Galloway

No 43. Brett Whiteley - Jonathan Watkins

No 44. Island - Nick Yelverton

No 45. Luna Park - Bill Granger

No 46. Face of the Damned - Kate McMillan

No 47. Central Australia - Leanne Santoro

No 48. Crane - Brian Adams

No 49. Myself - Simon Mundy

No 50. Going to Work, Rising Sun Hotel, 1948 - David Ferry

No 51. Figure at Harar - Andrew Turley

No 52, Greek Figures - Simon Pierse

No 53. Randolph Stow - Suzanne Falkiner

No 54. Landscape No.27 (Convalescence) - Suzanne Falkiner

No 55. Self portrait - Oliver McCall

No 56. McMurdo Sound - Mike Clements

No 57. Faun, Woman, Rider, Horse - Mark Fraser

No 58. Season in Hell (Benjamin Britten) - Anne Bean

No 59. The Slip - Humphrey Ocean

No 60. Central Australia - Chris Drury

No 61. Riverbend - Christina Slade

No 62. Head - Celia Johnson

No 63. Myth Rider - Desmond Browne

No 64. Stockman - Bridget McDonnell

No 65. Untitled (flower) - Roma Piotrowska

No 66. Chinese Landscape - Celia Perceval

No 67. Untitled - Des Hughes

No 68. Crucifixion - Rod Bugg

No 69. Icebergs - Laurence Hall

No 70. Bather in a Lily Pool - Amanda Fitzwilliams

No 71. Breaks like the Atlantic Ocean on my head - Michael Berkeley

No 72. Carcase in Swamp - Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva

No 73. Ern Malley - Isabella Boorman

No 74. Mrs Reardon at Glenrowan - Adrian Kelly

No 75. Landscape Carnarvon Range, Queensland - Catherine Noske

No 76. Abraham and Isaac - Sarah Bardwell

No 77. Rosa Mutabilis - Catherine Hunter

No 78. Artist drawing nude - Victoria Lynn

No 79. Boy and the moon - Natalie Wilson

NO 80. Explorer and Township - Helen Idle

No 81. All Tastes Like Dust in the Mouth... - Carolyn Leder

No 82. Young Boy Who Was Good at Latin - Roxy Shaw

No 83. Mrs Fraser - Anne Carter

No 84. Paradise Garden - David Oliver

No 85. Leda and the Swan - Marilyn Sweet

No 86. Burke and Wills at the Gulf - Jenny Watson

No 87. Dream of the latrine sitter - Ryan Johnston

No 88. Footballer - Gerard Vaughan

NO 89. Sketch for Ned Kelly - Amanda Fuller

NO 90. Woman in Lagoon - Jinx Nolan

No 91. Cherries in a bowl - Peter Blake

No 92. Fountain - Heywood Hill

No 93. Artist and painting - Charles Nodrum

No 94. Death of Constable Scanlon - Anita Taylor

No 95. Untitled (abstract) - David Jaffe

No 96. Digital image - Joe Studholme

No 97. Seated figure and bird - Sally Aitken

No 98. Burke and Wills expedition 'Gray sick' - Gary Sangster

No 99. Kangaroo at Ayers Rock - Pru and Anthony Napolitano

No 100. The Galaxy - Elizabeth Langslow