#Nolan 100

No 48. Crane - Brian Adams

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No 48. Crane - Brian Adams

For someone who had the very good fortune to be associated with Sidney Nolan for thirty years, both professionally and socially, and being familiar with much of his prolific output, selecting a favourite is difficult without gravitating to one of his chefs-d’oeuvre such as Kelly, Mrs Fraser or the monumental Anzac series.

With two international TV documentaries (Nolan at Sixty and Such is Life) together with a brace of biographical studies (Such is Life and Sidney Nolan’s Odyssey) I’ve  decided to take the  reverse direction by choosing a deceptively simple sketch from the 1977 tele-retrospective filmed on worldwide locations.

In Kenya, Sidney recalled his “African Journey” paintings which became Nolan’s first selling exhibition in London in 1963 with purchases by the Royal Family at a private preview. The public found an affinity with the pictures, however most critics regarded them as something of a fraud by abandoning his Australian roots and replacing kangaroos with zebras and koalas with apes. Eric Newton even suggested, presumably tongue in cheek, that the artist was a modern-day Baron Munchausen and fabricated his whole show without ever setting foot on the African continent. But fellow painter Francis Bacon complimented the artist personally and he and Kenneth Clark (who subsequently wrote and narrated Nolan at Sixty in 1977) were not among the detractors.  

Clark commented for my film: ‘He didn’t paint the African landscape, but the people and animals. He painted monkeys looking like old, philosophical men, and old men and women looking like monkeys. He wanted to show the stoicism of survival’.

Nothing illustrated that perceptive observation better than an unexpected incident that happened when filming Nolan, with sketchbook and crayons to hand, sitting on a river bank close to Nairobi drawing a couple of handsome blue cranes, a metre high, feeding in the shallows. Suddenly they were attacked by a predatory crocodile which appeared from nowhere and one of them ended up in its mouth as a flurry of blue feathers splattered with blood, while its partner watched the tragedy disconsolately from the safety of the bank.

Nolan’s image of the violent encounter was captured in less than two minutes using brown, blue and red oil crayons, including a sinister red dot for the assailant’s beady eye.  Later, I had that page from the sketchbook framed to place on the wall of my study as a reminder of the times we spent together and how a consummate artist could achieve with the simplest of sketches the message Kenneth Clark alluded to, not only about the stoicism of survival for all creatures great and small in Africa, but also as the universal truth Sidney also enshrined in the spirit of Ned Kelly’s final utterance before being hanged at Melbourne Gaol: ‘Such is Life!’"


Brian Adams OAM, Australian television producer and author. Ten published books include biographic studies of Sidney Nolan - "Sidney Nolan: Such is Life" and "Sidney Nolan's Odyssey: A Life". Also biographies of Dame Joan Sutherland - "La Stupenda", "Portrait of an Artist: biography of Sir William Dobell" and the 18th century botanist Sir Joseph Banks - "The Flowering of the Pacific". Now lives in the South of France. 

Sidney Nolan, Crane, 1977, crayon on paper. 

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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