#Nolan 100

No.36 Luna Park - Paula Dredge

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No.36 Luna Park - Paula Dredge

While preparing paintings for the Sidney Nolan retrospective exhibition in 2007, I was cataloguing a collection of paints from Nolan’s studio in Wahroonga, Sydney, given to the Art Gallery of NSW by his daughter Jinx Nolan.

No traditional artist’s oil paints among them, they were a time capsule of household paint technology from the mid 20th century and included many paint trade names which were entirely unknown in their content; Ripolin, Dulux, Kemtone and Surtint.  When I was asked by the exhibition curators what Nolan’s paintings might be made from, I was filled with uncertainty. Luna Park for example had previously been catalogued as enamel and as oil, but was it the glossy Ripolin paint he had been so well known for using? Or could it be Dulux or even artist’s oil paint? After scientific analysis of the paints from the Wahroonga studio and then the works themselves, the paint medium of Luna Park was revealed as something else entirely; nitrocellulose lacquer.

The most popular brand of nitrocellulose paint, Duco, had been developed in the 1920s as a paint for motor cars and then signage and even for recolouring leather shoes during the depression of the 1930s. This would have been a paint type familiar to Nolan from his work making signs for cars in a factory at the age of 13 and displays for the Fayrefield Hat company in Melbourne through the 1930s. Usually applied with spray guns, nitrocellulose paints dried quickly and were difficult to work with a brush.

How Nolan could have painted Luna Park using such a fast-drying paint is still mysterious, but the need to paint fast and have his paint dry faster appears to have been a quest he pursued throughout his life. Nolan moved on from nitrocellulose to work with other household paints such as Dulux in 1942, (the first synthetic paint made from polyester), Ripolin in 1943, (oils cooked with driers) then mixing his own paints from ‘white glue’, PVA, in the 1950s and alkyd gel medium in the 1960s.

Now, as I work through the hundreds of items left in his studio at his house in the U.K., The Rodd, it is the commitment to any type of paint or additive which sped drying and required new technical challenges in application, that appears to have inspired Nolan. Perhaps it is no surprise that he took to paint in spray cans in 1981 before they became the well-known medium of street artists. The spray cans dominate his last studio, set out on tables for access to a range of colours like a traditional artist’s palette. No doubt he took to the spray as a technique harking back to his first jobs, but now wielded two-handed like a double set of guns firing at the canvas. The spray cans produced spectacular effects of coloured sky and water, likenesses in portraits and huge abstracts with intense colours and powdery matt surfaces; paint effects controlled only by the distance and position of the cans in steady hands.


Dr Paula Dredge is the Head of Paintings Conservation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Her PhD thesis was an analytical and historical study of the household paints used by Sidney Nolan from 1939 to 1953. This study continues in the year of Nolan’s centenary, to encompass the following four decades of his practice through a research residency at Nolan’s studio: The Rodd

Sidney Nolan, Luna Park, 1941, 67.0 x 84.0 cm, nitrocellulose lacquer on canvas, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Purchased with funds provided by the Nelson Meers Foundation
2003, Photo: Jenni Carter, AGNSW, © The Trustees of the 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

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