#Nolan 100

No.16 Rimbaud at Harar - Edmund Capon AM OBE


No.16 Rimbaud at Harar - Edmund Capon AM OBE

The precocious and unpredictable French poet Arthur Rimbaud who began writing at the age of fifteen and then abandoned literature altogether within a decade was a kindred and inspirational spirit for Sid Nolan.

Nolan often spoke of how he had contemplated being a poet rather than a painter and Rimbaud remained a lifelong obsession for him.This restless soul who sought through poetry to find and express the inexpressible and who spoke of the ‘rational disordering of all the senses’ instilled in the young Nolan that pursuit of avenues of sensibility and experience which defied the predictable and the acceptable. The poet’s excessive and rebellious lifestyle, fuelled by alcohol and hashish, to get beyond good and evil, resonated with an impatient teenage Nolan who had left school at the age of fourteen. There was an indelible streak of anarchy in Nolan and Rimbaud was the perfect alter-ego; they were both ‘outsiders’ and Sidney courted that image. In an interview with Michael Heywood in London in April 1991 he said ‘oh yes I was an outsider – as a worker, a son of a worker, going to a factory at 14, I was fully conscious of being an outsider’. Nolan once said that in art ‘the screw has to be turned even further, that one has to be violent, more avant-garde, more abstract’. Such words could indeed have come from the very mouth of the young Rimbaud who, following his abandonment of poetry and literature, and indeed France, eventually ended up as a merchant and trader in Harar in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). 

Thus it was that Sidney and Cynthia eventually made their pilgrimage to Africa in the autumn of 1962. 

The tangible result of these travels was a series of hugely seductive and often enigmatic wildlife paintings; images of zebras, elephants, monkeys, lions, all sketchily rendered but with a strange tenderness and unusually sombre colours which imbues them with an aura of mystery. That same sense of mystery is evoked in Rimbaud at Hara with its sensitive but melancholy tones, and the haunting ghost-like image of Rimbaud who seems to blend with the undergrowth from which he uncertainly emerges rather like a figure of the risen Christ. Perhaps that was in Nolan’s mind as he pondered the life of his once mischievous hero who had turned to commerce in the unlikely and distant environment of Ethiopia.    

The composition is typical Nolan; the figure of Rimbaud, naked and vulnerable, his eyes looking to the heavens, is isolated in an unlikely landscape under a darkening sky that seems to herald an uncertain world. And yet there is a silent beauty in Nolan’s almost mellifluous texture and often surprising colours; that strange ominous muddy sky, the colour of stagnant water, suddenly enlightened with flashes of yellow and red. These strange colours are echoed in his African Landscape (1963 and now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales) in which the landscape seems to be aflame with an untrammelled ferocity.   Ferocious and beautiful; the outsider who in Clark’s words became ’the Australian Rimbaud’."

Edmund Capon AM OBE was director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales 1978–2011.

Sidney Nolan, Rimbaud at Harar, 1963, oil on hardboard, (1917-92) / Private Collection / © Sidney Nolan Trust / Photo © Agnew's, London / Bridgeman Images 

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