#Nolan 100

No 83. Mrs Fraser - Anne Carter


No 83. Mrs Fraser - Anne Carter

Sidney Nolan spent October of 1947 on K’gari (Fraser Island), a sand island off the coast of Queensland, where he produced a number of large paintings. Mrs Fraser (then titled Woongoolbver Creek) was one of twelve works exhibited at the Moreton Galleries in Brisbane in February 1948. It was reworked and re-exhibited as Mrs Fraser in 1957 in Nolan’s Whitechapel Retrospective in London.

As a physical artwork, Mrs Fraser is intriguing in its technique and materials. Nolan merged layers of glossy oil-based Ripolin enamel (brought with him in jars from Melbourne) on Masonite salvaged from old island army huts. This work is remarkable for both its paint stability and the number of revisions. It was unusual for Nolan to rework his paintings, but he tended to this particular painting over a number of years, keeping it all his life. Among his various revisions he reworked horizon lines to open up a sky over the entangled forest, added a grey oval border and trimmed 12cm from its top.

Wanggoolba Creek (as it is now spelled) is a crystal-clear freshwater creek running through piccabeen palm forest near the centre of the island. Darkened palm fronds litter the creek bed, and October brings springtime flushes of new red growth to the forest green. Nolan wrote that the water of the creek was so clear that it was almost invisible. His faithful capturing of the local environment confirms Nolan’s genius as a landscape painter — seventy years later the creek remains true to his depiction. This is a legacy of environmentalists in the 1970s and 1980s, who fought to end sand mining and were successful in having most of the island designated a National Park with World Heritage status. Poet and activist Judith Wright, a friend of Nolan’s, argued in the 1975 Fraser Island Environmental Enquiry not only for the island’s protection on environmental grounds, but also on cultural grounds: the island was ‘hallowed’ by its association with Nolan’s works of art.  

Nolan’s travels to Queensland in 1947 marked a break from his life at Heide with John and Sunday Reed.  His visit to K’gari was an experience of great significance for the artist, and he returned to his memories of this time in his later works. The identifiable location of the painting merges with an imagined depiction of the shipwrecked Mrs Fraser - drinking from the creek - and we continue to postulate about how Nolan’s portrait of Mrs Fraser is intermingled with his feelings of heartbreak from Sunday Reed at this time.

The painting also reminds us of Australia’s violent history of colonisation. ‘Sidney Nolan . . . imagined and mythologised the experience of Scottish woman Eliza Anne Fraser, who was shipwrecked off the coast of Queensland in 1836. Accounts of Mrs Fraser’s experience, steeped in colonial assumptions and elevated to the status of legend through multiple and contradictory tellings, effectively demonised the island’s inhabitants, and the stories have since been contested.’1

The local Butchulla people, who soothed Mrs Fraser’s sunburn and protected her during her weeks on the island, are said to have saved her from certain death but were themselves treated so poorly by the colonisers. In partial recognition of this injustice, the Great Sandy National Park was formally renamed K’gari in April 2017 — a return to its traditional name, meaning ‘paradise’.

Nolan has brought together his journey from Melbourne, the physical environment of K’gari and the historical story of Eliza Fraser, in a mastery of house paints and found material that is both powerful and immediate for the viewer, making Mrs Fraser a remarkable work from a significant period in the artist’s life.

Mrs Fraser is one of three paintings on the subject held at the Queensland Art Gallery Ι Gallery of Modern Art and on display in the Australian collection galleries.”

1 Kyla McFarlane, ‘Telling the Story of Australian Art’, Artlines no. 3, QAGOMA, 2017, p.29.

Anne Carter is a paintings conservator who has worked at Queensland Art Gallery Ι Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) since 2000. Her interests lie in the conservation of contemporary paintings and she has published on the materials of Ian Fairweather and Charles Blackman. With thanks to Paula Dredge, Gillian Osmond and David Rainey. https://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/

The author’s daughter posing in Wanggoolba Creek, October 2017, photograph by Anne Carter.

Sidney Nolan, Mrs Fraser, 1947, Ripolin enamel on hardboard, 66.2 x 107 cm. Purchased 1995 with a special allocation from the Queensland Government. Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery's Centenary 1895–1995. Collection: Queensland Art Gallery. © 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