#Nolan 100

No 87. Dream of the latrine sitter - Ryan Johnston

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No 87. Dream of the latrine sitter - Ryan Johnston

Dream of the latrine sitter' was painted in December 1942 in Dimboola, Victoria, where Nolan was stationed with the Australian Army and tasked with the undistinguished role of maintaining food supplies.

It depicts an unidentified soldier (who I, along with many others, like to think is Nolan), relieving himself on an outdoor toilet in the barren Wimmera landscape. The abject, excremental theme is echoed by both Nolan’s palette and technique, with the brown paint laid on so thin as to appear like a stain on the rough hardboard support.

While the subject of the latrine sitter’s eponymous dream is also unclear, it may well have been that of becoming an official war artist. The work was painted around the same time Nolan unsuccessfully approached the Australian War Memorial’s director, Major John Treloar, for a commission, and almost a year into John Reid’s epic letter writing campaign to lobby the Memorial to appoint more “modern” artists to the scheme. In an attempt to bolster his case for the latter Reid sent Treloar a copy of the catalogue to the Contemporary Art Society’s “Anti-Fascist Exhibition”, featuring 'Dream of the latrine sitter', shortly after it opened. It’s difficult to fathom why Reid thought bringing Nolan’s picture of a shitting soldier to Treloar’s attention might enhance his chances of a commission, and if anything it sealed his fate. Reid and Nolan’s subsequent entreaties were summarily dismissed.

Eighteen months after painting this picture Nolan deserted the army, a move that forced him into hiding and on to other artistic subject matter. Yet just over a decade later he would return to the theme of war with his sprawling Gallipoli series, ultimately consisting of hundreds of works spanning two decades of Nolan’s career. Yet while the Gallipoli pictures retained something of the murky palette and loose execution of 'Dream of the latrine sitter', they also at times mythologised the subject of war in a way the earlier, far more caustic work, pointedly refused.

If Nolan harboured a grudge against the Memorial for thwarting his dream of becoming a war artist this had dissipated by 1978 when, in a remarkable philanthropic act, he donated 252 works from the Gallipoli series to its collection. It remains among the most significant gifts in the institution’s history, and influenced how the Memorial would, from that point forward, increasingly emphasise the role of contemporary art in commemoration. In 2001, almost 60 years after its production, the present picture was finally acquired. The dream may therefore have remained as such, but Nolan’s point was made in the end."


Ryan Johnston is Head of Art at the Australian War Memorial. https://www.awm.gov.au/

Sidney Nolan, Dream of the latrine sitter, 1942, oil on hard board, 45.5 x 122 cm, Australian War Memorial [ART91645]. © 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

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No.13 Untitled (Catani Arch, St Kilda) - David Rainey

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No.15 Study for Samson et Dalila - Elijah Moshinsky

No.16 Rimbaud at Harar - Edmund Capon AM OBE

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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

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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

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

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No 62. Head - Celia Johnson

No 63. Myth Rider - Desmond Browne

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No 65. Untitled (flower) - Roma Piotrowska

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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

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No 87. Dream of the latrine sitter - Ryan Johnston

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NO 89. Sketch for Ned Kelly - Amanda Fuller

NO 90. Woman in Lagoon - Jinx Nolan

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No 93. Artist and painting - Charles Nodrum

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