#Nolan 100

No 76. Abraham and Isaac - Sarah Bardwell

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No 76. Abraham and Isaac - Sarah Bardwell

About a year ago I was at a concert in Britten’s library at the Red House in Aldeburgh, his home with his partner Peter Pears during the middle of the 20th century. The concert programme included Canticle II which Britten wrote in 1952.

It was not a piece that I knew but hearing it for the first time in Britten and Pears’ own library, sung by two young, passionate singers, accompanied on Britten’s Steinway piano was one of those musical moments that will stay with me forever.

At the opening of the canticle Britten uses the two voices, singing in rhythmic unison, to create the voice of God talking to Abraham. It is a breath-taking effect and the impact is spine chilling not least as God is asking Abraham to sacrifice his own son. I was so taken with the piece that I wanted to find out more and was delighted to discover that Britten owned the work Nolan had painted after Canticle II.

The painting, currently in store in the Britten-Pears Foundation archive based at the Red House, has vivid colours that are as memorable as the music. The picture, with Uluru as a backdrop, depicts a naked, bearded Abraham seated beside his son Isaac. Alongside them is a goat or small four legged animal. Given the glorious colours it is perhaps the moment that God has declared that the sacrifice does not need to go ahead and Abraham appears to have noticed the animal that will be the substitute sacrifice. In the canticle Britten marks this same moment by repeating the technique he used at the beginning for the voice of God, two voices in unison. When this musical theme reappears it becomes less chilling and more spine tingling.

These two works of art enhance and complement each other perfectly. To me, they have now become inextricably linked. I cannot see the painting without humming the tune nor hear the tune without imagining the painting.”


Sarah Bardwell is the General Director of the Britten-Pears Foundation. https://brittenpears.org/

Sidney Nolan, Abraham and Isaac, 1967, mixed media, 50.2 x 74.3cm, gift from the artist to Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in 1968 ©Sidney Nolan Trust

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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

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No.33 Self Portrait - Denise Mimmocchi

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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

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

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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

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No 51. Figure at Harar - Andrew Turley

No 52, Greek Figures - Simon Pierse

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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

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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

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