The Nolan 100

The Nolan 100 is a birthday tribute to Sidney Nolan from 100 individuals worldwide. We invited people who knew Sidney, worked with him, or have been influenced by his work or his legacy to choose a ‘favourite’ Nolan work and tell us why.  We will share these choices throughout the year - to see each addition to the gallery, follow sidneynolantrust on Instagram - #Nolan100.  

18. Snake - David Walsh

18. Snake - David Walsh

Nolan developed a gestural language for Snake in the same way that most artists work. He composed and executed a little picture, influenced, as we all know, by aboriginals and their art, and New Guineans, and their snake dances. He then painted similar scenes with a quicker hand and fewer gestures, and he repeated this thousands of times, till the paintings were made by muscle memory. As his gestures implied an as yet unseen image, he directed his work like a tennis player - but the paintings came automatically. In my opinion the end point of this process is the remarkable bats, each made with a few strokes, but embodying batness. For Snake and Shark Nolan made a mock-up of the larger picture and filled in the details, so he may not have set out to become an automatic painter. But he used what emerged, a fortuitous accident, to drive him further. That's how great creatives create - not by standing on the shoulders of giants, but by extracting nuance from happenstance. Nolan has harnessed serendipity, to our great good fortune."

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17. Quilting the Armour - Jackie Haliday

17. Quilting the Armour - Jackie Haliday

"I’ve chosen Quilting the Armour because my interest lies in how this Sidney Nolan painting quietly disarms the Ned Kelly legend as the practicalities of the behemoth armour is tenderly padded by Kelly’s sister Kate. The contrast of the hard with the soft; the steel plough shares against the blue fabric lining; the impenetrable folk hero versus the vulnerabilities of the man. I had this same feeling when I recently made a tour of ‘Kelly Country’ - Stringybark Creek, Beechworth, Chiltern, Glenrowan with its six metre Ned Kelly statue. Childhood memories and fears of the menace of the outback dissolving as I drove through an innocuous landscape dotted with quiet country towns each with their stake of Kelly mythology. This notion of disarmament is further compounded by Nolan’s cartoonlike flattening of the central figure in the foreground or downstage. It gives the impression of the protagonist breaking the fourth wall and stepping out and addressing the viewer directly, now as a seamstress. While the everyday farm life is still humming along in the background, the armour is presented as an unfinished costume further dismantling the man from the legend. However as viewer we don't yet know what the next scene will be because Nolan’s horizon offers us an ambiguity. Is it the closing of the day, a peaceful dusk and the safety of darkness? Or is Nolan signalling the dawn breaking and the sun rising allowing Kelly to don his costume to play out the final, fateful Last Stand?" Jackie Haliday is a Galerist Sidney Nolan, Quilting the Armour, 1947, Enamel paint on composition board, 90.4 x 121.2 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gift of Sunday Reed, 1977.

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16. Rimbaud at Harar - Edmund Capon AM OBE

16. Rimbaud at Harar - Edmund Capon AM OBE

"The precocious and unpredictable French poet Arthur Rimbaud who began writing at the age of fifteen and then abandoned literature altogether within a decade was a kindred and inspirational spirit for Sid Nolan. Nolan often spoke of how he had contemplated being a poet rather than a painter and Rimbaud remained a lifelong obsession for him.This restless soul who sought through poetry to find and express the inexpressible and who spoke of the ‘rational disordering of all the senses’ instilled in the young Nolan that pursuit of avenues of sensibility and experience which defied the predictable and the acceptable. The poet’s excessive and rebellious lifestyle, fuelled by alcohol and hashish, to get beyond good and evil, resonated with an impatient teenage Nolan who had left school at the age of fourteen. There was an indelible streak of anarchy in Nolan and Rimbaud was the perfect alter-ego; they were both ‘outsiders’ and Sidney courted that image. In an interview with Michael Heywood in London in April 1991 he said ‘oh yes I was an outsider – as a worker, a son of a worker, going to a factory at 14, I was fully conscious of being an outsider’. Nolan once said that in art ‘the screw has to be turned even further, that one has to be violent, more avant-garde, more abstract’. Such words could indeed have come from the very mouth of the young Rimbaud who, following his abandonment of poetry and literature, and indeed France, eventually ended up as a merchant and trader in Harar in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Thus it was that Sidney and Cynthia eventually made their pilgrimage to Africa in the autumn of 1962. The tangible result of these travels was a series of hugely seductive and often enigmatic wildlife paintings; images of zebras, elephants, monkeys, lions, all sketchily rendered but with a strange tenderness and unusually sombre colours which imbues them with an aura of mystery. That same sense of mystery is evoked in Rimbaud at Hara with its sensitive but melancholy tones, and the haunting ghost-like image of Rimbaud who seems to blend with the undergrowth from which he uncertainly emerges rather like a figure of the risen Christ. Perhaps that was in Nolan’s mind as he pondered the life of his once mischievous hero who had turned to commerce in the unlikely and distant environment of Ethiopia. The composition is typical Nolan; the figure of Rimbaud, naked and vulnerable, his eyes looking to the heavens, is isolated in an unlikely landscape under a darkening sky that seems to herald an uncertain world. And yet there is a silent beauty in Nolan’s almost mellifluous texture and often surprising colours; that strange ominous muddy sky, the colour of stagnant water, suddenly enlightened with flashes of yellow and red. These strange colours are echoed in his African Landscape (1963 and now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales) in which the landscape seems to be aflame with an untrammelled ferocity. Ferocious and beautiful; the outsider who in Clark’s words became ’the Australian Rimbaud’." Edmund Capon AM OBE was director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales 1978–2011. Sidney Nolan, Rimbaud at Harar, 1963, oil on hardboard, (1917-92) / Private Collection / © Sidney Nolan Trust / Photo © Agnew's, London / Bridgeman Images

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15. Study for Samson et Dalila - Elijah Moshinsky

15. Study for Samson et Dalila - Elijah Moshinsky

Working with Sidney Nolan on the design of Samson et Dalila at Covent Garden, 1981 "I was invited by Sir John Tooley to direct a new production of Samson et Dalila by Saint-Saens to be conducted by Sir Colin Davis, with Jon Vickers and Shirley Verrett. Who did I think would be the appropriate designer for this project? The opera was not highly regarded at the time and considered to be a sort of French orientalist perfumed affair and a piece of kitsch. I rather admired the opera and thought that it needed a visual presentation which took it out of ordinary stage design and into a realm of biblical symbolism. I immediately thought of Sidney Nolan whose paintings were inscribed into my Australian unconscious. John Tooley seemed excited by the idea and the next day I was told that he had spoken to Nolan who was fascinated by the prospect of designing an opera, and could I meet him at his apartment in Whitehall Court. We met and it was an instant rapport. He did know the opera, he did not know the procedure to design a huge piece like this – I was to organise all that. But we talked about music. Music was of great importance to him. He was a connoisseur of nuance in performance. He told me that he chose to live in Whitehall Court because he said he could just walk across the bridge to the Festival Hall for concerts. Was Solti’s Beethoven better than Tennstedt’s? Did I not prefer Ashkenazy’s playing to Brendel’s? What about literature – Patrick White? Robert Frost or Auden? This exciting talker, this man of enormous cultural sensibility who adored music, poetry and literature, totally enchanted me and a firm commitment was made to enter the project which would be performed about 7 months later. At this point he then disappeared on a long journey to travel the silk route to Mongolia. Several months passed and Covent Garden began pressing me for designs to start work. There seemed no way to reach him but by some means John Tooley was able to get a message through to him and indeed received a phone call from Sidney which he imagined to be from a phone booth in the Gobi desert. Yes, Sidney was still on board with the venture and keen. He was about to return and had discovered exotic silk fabrics in China which he wanted to incorporate into the costumes. A week later he was back. Covent Garden was about to go into its summer recess and we had to come up with a functioning design almost immediately. We had decided that we wanted to create layers of imagery on gauze cloths, sometimes four deep, to provide a complete but shifting environment of colour and design for the stage action. A model of the Royal Opera House stage was built to a large scale into which he could experimentally hang his paintings. This was delivered to his studio and we began intensive work. We had to work intensely and quickly. I was to guide him step by step through the demands of the opera and build up the whole scheme of the production. This could only be done if we met every day and worked together as the model developed. He painted quickly and we would test the scale and value of each cloth in the model. We would have lunch and discuss the plan for that day. I would read him the libretto, sometimes passages from the Bible, sometimes parts of Jung’s essays and sometimes Freud on Monotheism. We began by tackling the scene with the Hebrews at the beginning – how did this relate to the later scenes, moving to the world of Dalila? And he began to consider the scenes in terms of colour and texture. But we did not want scenery as conventionally understood. We did not want the kitsch of Hollywood Biblical epics. I wanted a stage in which the performers could populate the Nolan world. ‘What is that first scene about?’ Sidney kept enquiring. Not the action of the scene but its nub, its inner core. Eventually he forced me to find it. It was about God. The Israelites feeling lost and abandoned by Jehovah. This idea absolutely hit him with force. He said ‘What if we do it from God’s point of view?’ He then painted, very quickly using vivid dyes a blue background and on it he put the imprint of his own hand painted black. The effect in performance would be that we saw the Israelites obscurely in white and blue sections of the stage picture, and the imprint of the black hand would act as a void through which we could see the disposed Hebrews clearly. This symbol, he explained to me, came to him from aboriginal rock paintings. It was, he said, the first expression of Man’s self awareness. For Nolan, it was a symbol of creativity in man, The Hand of God. Standing next to him every day as we probed and invented the world of the opera, I was aware of a man who had a visionary grasp on his art, who could somehow actualise the mythic, the essential though behind ordinary reality. There was no stagey banality or indeed practicality in his work. It was there, to mine the inner core of some essential sense of man’s relationship to landscape, light, sexuality and tragedy. When it came to devising the key image for the production, something that defined the core of the myth of Samson, Sidney came up with an enormously powerful image of the blind Samson, eyes streaming blood. It was about the tragedy of man himself. Samson / Oedipus, overwhelming in the theatre, red raw background surrounded the ghost shape of a face in agony with its eyes put out. Like the helmet of Ned Kelly, this Samson was an essential image of human suffering." Elijah Moshinsky is a world renowned director of theatre and opera with a career spanning over thirty years. He has worked with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, New York and the Royal National Theatre amongst numerous other venues. Sidney Nolan, Study for Samson et Dalila, 1981, Ink on card, 30.5 x 24cm, © The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust

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14. Death of a Poet - Simon Martin

14. Death of a Poet - Simon Martin

"Sidney Nolan’s ‘Death of a Poet’ (1954) is an image that stays in the mind long after viewing it. Perhaps this is because of its dreamlike and even Surreal qualities. At first the image seems so serene: the cast of a head with its eyes closed, as if in sleep, seems to float in the air amidst foliage before an intense, cerulean sky. And yet, it depicts the death mask of the Australian bush ranger Ned Kelly, a hero/ anti-hero figure who obsessed Nolan. This depiction of Kelly is so unlike all the other images of him created by Nolan: the distinctive armoured helmet is absent and literally disembodied, Kelly is not presented with a heroic gait or in a dramatic moment from his infamous history. Instead we have the man at peace, no longer a threatening or heroic figure, but passive and introspective. The death mask has been on display in Melbourne since Kelly’s death, no doubt originally to provide conclusive evidence of his demise, but inevitably it has given life to the myth that surrounds him. Here it is presented like an archaeological fragment from an ancient civilisation found amongst the foliage, but in a way that also carries other resonant associations. As TG Rosenthal has stated it suggests images of Christ and the Crown of Thorns, but it also recalls the famous life mask of the British poet William Blake, and through its title perhaps relates to Arthur Rimbaud, whose poetry Nolan admired and whom he related to Kelly through their early deaths. The association with Blake’s life mask also brings us to Francis Bacon’s series of Studies for a Portrait after a life mask of Blake, which he began two months after this painting. It raises the question of whether Bacon had seen this painting. Nolan had settled in Britain in the previous year, and although the foliage is clearly based on Australian plant forms (which recall other paintings from the same year such as Australian Honeyeater and Australian Foliage, both 1954, Leicester County Council Artworks Collection), it suggests that he may have been influenced by paintings by British ‘Neo-Romantic’ artists of the 1940s and 50s, such as Graham Sutherland’s series of Thorn Trees and images of poets surrounded by foliage by John Craxton such as Dreamer in a Landscape (1941, Tate) and Poet in a Landscape (1941, private collection) which had been published in Horizon magazine in 1941. We were very keen for this work to be part of the exhibition Transferences: Sidney Nolan in Britain’ at Pallant House Gallery because through these resonant connections it reveals how much Nolan’s work was bridging both Australian and British art in the post-war period. We are very grateful to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool for lending it to the exhibition, but also the members of the Exhibition Supporters Circle who have helped fund the conservation and loan preparation costs to enable this important work to be included." Simon Martin is a curator, writer and art historian. He is also Director of Pallant House Gallery. Sidney Nolan, Death of a Poet, 1954, Ripolin on Masonite board, 91.5 x 122 cm, © The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust/Bridgeman Art Library

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13. Untitled (Catani Arch, St Kilda) - David Rainey

13. Untitled (Catani Arch, St Kilda) - David Rainey

"Sidney Nolan was born the very same day Carlo Catani turned 65 and retired from the Public Works Department in Melbourne. The Florence-born engineer’s last major project had been reclamation of the St Kilda foreshore as a public space. His elegant arched footbridge linking the sea baths and tea rooms was built in 1916. Much frequented by Nolan throughout his life, Catani Arch is captured evocatively in this little known 1942 painting. Appropriately, given he knew Mary Boyd when he painted it and 36 years later she became his third wife, this work once graced the London home of the Boyd family. Nolan grew up in St Kilda - in his words a ‘kitsch heaven’. Luna Park and its Big Dipper, the Palais Theatre, the Pier, Catani Gardens, the Esplanade - all promised youthful excitement and mature nostalgia. He was 25 when he painted Catani Arch. For a year he had lived in a ménage à trois with John and Sunday Reed at Heide having finally accepted the reality that his marriage to Elizabeth Paterson was finished. What was more, Australia was at war, Japanese forces were advancing, he had been drafted into the army and stationed in the Mallee district of Western Victoria. The past was past, the present had its allure, but the future seemed bleak. The painting though, reflects little of this. Rather, drawing on that ‘rare lyrical talent’ recognised in Nolan even then by fellow painter Albert Tucker, the work suggests a genius of vision that would soon blossom in his Wimmera paintings. Painted on muslin covered board most likely prepared by Sunday Reed and taken to Nolan on a weekend visit, it displays ‘the radical flatness, high horizons, virtual absence of conventional linear perspective and bright primary colours’, recognised by Jane Clark in her 1987 Nolan retrospective Landscape and Legends as ‘interpreting the Australian landscape in an entirely new way.’ A colour-drenched work, with abstracted simplicity of form and Rouault-like outlining, Catani Arch’s gravel concourse and archway float diagonally like a yellow-frocked child. Imagination is key. One can imagine Nolan here, a boy in his kitsch heaven; here, away from their parents, he and Elizabeth keep rendezvous; almost opposite, across the Esplanade in their Marli Place flat, their daughter is conceived; perhaps here, he and John Sinclair wonder at a full moon rising over the bay and he conjures up the iconic Moonboy image. Here too, much later, he will walk with his daughter Amelda. Explaining to her the bitterness of his Paradise Garden verses about his Heide years and their acrimonious aftermath, he wrote ‘You remember walking by that little bridge below the Esplanade. I hope to one day write a book in which the poetry celebrates rather than castigates, and is more like what I thought about at eighteen standing by that bridge.’ And this painting of ‘that little bridge below the Esplanade’ does celebrate. It celebrates art, and life, and wonder. Nolan spoke of his own ‘wonders of the world’ in the 1987 poem Oz Digger and imagined them ‘sweet heaven in pieces.’ This surely is one of the pieces." David Rainey is an independent Australian writer and researcher. He co-curated the exhibition Ern Malley: the Hoax and Beyond at Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2007. His main area of interest is the avant-garde art and literature of WW2 Melbourne and later. He maintains the website which centres mainly on Nolan and Heide, and also the Centenary website. Untitled (Catani Arch, St Kilda), 1942, oil on cotton gauze on board, 37.0 x 45.5 cm, private collection, Canberra,© Sidney Nolan Trust

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12. Hare in Trap - Nicholas Usherwood

12. Hare in Trap - Nicholas Usherwood

"Painted in 1946, Hare in A Trap was one of a significant group of paintings that Nolan kept by him throughout his life, a fact that, in itself, provides a clue to the very particular place this enigmatic and hauntingly beautiful work seems to occupy in his art. Nolan always quietly insisted that his work was essentially autobiographical in character but he only ever left the barest of clues as to what he meant by this, leaving it up to writers and critics to speculate. In this case it was Nolan's observation that the blue eyes of the hare were the eyes of his father; his relationship with his tram-driver father, always uneasy, had been further severely strained by his desertion from the army two years earlier. Other elements in any psychological/autobiographical reading that suggest themselves here were the accidental death of his brother Raymond on naval service the year before while a visit to Kelly Country earlier in the year may well have stirred memories of his father's father who had been involved in the police search for Kelly and revived childhood memories of visits to family in North Victoria. These visits had, of course, been made in preparation for the first, iconic 'Ned Kelly' series, also in full flow in 1946, the landscape, with its scrubby bush and scattered trees, being stylistically identical to those of the early Kelly paintings. Close in feeling to it as well are those paintings exploring his childhood memories of St Kilda Beach and Luna Park Funfair of a few months earlier in which he also seemed to be attempting some urgent resolution of a carefree past and his present, turbulent circumstances. But some things here are, for me at least, beyond such speculation, above all those ten, potent, red and white spots underneath the hare's legs – blood and fur - a reference to Freud and Oedipus (literally 'swollen foot'), or simply an essential compositional device?" Nicholas Usherwood is a curator, art critic and writer on contemporary art and culture. He has written for publications including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, Arts Reviewand Resurgence and is currently Features Editor of Galleries Magazine. Sidney Nolan, Hare in Trap, 1946, Ripolin enamel on hardboard, 90.5 x 121.5 cm board, Purchased with funds provided by the Nelson Meers Foundation, the Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation 2007, © The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust/Bridgeman Art Library

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11. Bird - Deborah Ely

11. Bird - Deborah Ely

"From the 1980s Sidney Nolan spent nearly every Australian summer at Bundanon, Riversdale and Eearie Park, the properties now in the custody of Bundanon Trust and gifted to the Australian public in 1993 by Nolan’s brother-in-law, fellow Australian painter, Arthur Boyd. The isolation and the heat, the Stringybark forest and surrounding escarpment, all contributed to the heady artistic milieu which developed in this landscape along the Shoalhaven River in rural New South Wales. Photographs from the time show breakfasts and lunches out-doors, casual garb (sometimes nightwear) and a relaxed, convivial, atmosphere. At Christmas time images were exchanged: ‘From Mary and Sid to Arthur and Yvonne” and the other way around. Nolan shared Arthur’s studio. Together they drove or hiked to remote places on the Bundanon property to spend the day painting ‘plein air’. The paint is still on the rocks if you know where to look. The local shop-keepers recall Nolan coming in to buy spray-paint and Ripolin (the house paint he favoured and a conservator’s curse). Animals persist throughout Nolan’s work. A giant snake; monkeys, lions and elephants; cows and their carcasses; Ned Kelly’s horse. But birds have a special presence. The persistence of the famous parrot Polly, Leda’s swan. This vibrating black, red and green felt-tip pen bird, of no particular type, was drawn at Bundanon in 1984. It has an incredible energy flowing from its confident line and the strobe effect of the colours shadowing each other and creating a vibration. It’s thread-like legs and, just at the edge of the page, a plant and a butterfly rendered in a dash are both playful and highly skilled at the same time. The drawing reminds us of what a brilliant draftsman Nolan was and how his restless creativity drew him to so many subjects leaving us with a visual trace of his keen intellect." Deborah Ely, the CEO of the Bundanon Trust is an artist and art historian. She was formerly the Visual Arts and Craft Program Manager for Arts NSW and has been Director of Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne, EXPERIMENTA and Watershed Media Centre in Bristol. Sidney Nolan, Bird, 1984, felt pen. Bundanon Trust Collection.© Sidney Nolan Trust

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10. Ned Kelly - Shaun Gladwell

10. Ned Kelly - Shaun Gladwell

"Kelly is riding alone, across an open plain. The sharp sunlight delineates all the forms before us - the horse, Kelly’s gun, the distant tree line on this yellow sandy expanse. Everything is clearly and quickly articulated except for that famous body armour and helmet, which magically absorbs all light. Indeed, it is as if light particles are ‘bailed up’ and robbed by the event horizon of this formal black hole. Kelly’s helmet and armour become unknown volumes: both flat and a window into infinite space. Apollo’s order and sunlight is no match for a Dionysian Kelly, who in this instance may be simply riding, but if needed, he will dismount, disarm, endure 20 rounds of bare knuckle boxing and win. This painting of Kelly is arguably the most well known of all Nolan’s works, and certainly the most recognisable of his initial Kelly series. Nolan depicts Kelly riding freely and, more importantly, for his own sense of freedom. We are given a vision of Kelly, the firebrand anti-establishmentarian, in a very precious moment. We are alone with him, away from the gang and all the transpiring drama. From this moment of solitude, we envisage our outlaw riding into his destiny. Nolan’s image is a technical mirroring of its subject matter. It is also painted ‘freely’, in the spirit of our great anti-hero, Kelly. Nolan's technique dances above and around the strict academic laws of volumetric illusion, typically achieved through tonal modelling, accurate proportion and perspective. Nolan instead plays the game of figurative representation in his own idiosyncratic way, subverting artistic convention in the creation of a very ‘modern’ composition. The image has such a graphic intensity that it burns into one’s retina, and even deeper into the individual unconscious. Soon enough, this image of Kelly gallops directly into the collective imaginary of an entire nation and the primers of art history. The 1946 Kelly will effect a shift from being one of many representations of Kelly to possibly the most recognised artistic symbol of this man. Even in terms of other dramatisations of Kelly, can the film interpretations of Mick Jagger or the late, great Heath Ledger, or Julian Schnabel’s ‘plate painting’ of Kelly, ever come close to claiming the iconic power of Nolan’s 1946 Kelly? A great mystery of the painting is the much speculated upon visor in Kelly’s helmet. To see directly through the helmet form (which we know from Nolan’s statements, was inspired by Malevich’s black square) is to enter a wonderful representational dilemma. Is Kelly hollow, or a ‘body without Organs’ as the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze would put it? Is ‘Ned’ constructed purely of mythic surfaces? Nolan would later famously state that every painting of Kelly was in fact a self-portrait. The transparent visor in the helmet suggests that we can all inhabit this empty armour and ask ourselves: do we have it within us to be so wild, so passionate, so revolutionary? The see-through helmet also destabilises the otherwise clearly defined figure/ground relationship. Kelly is stark against the immediate surroundings, but this vivid nature is also within him. Kelly’s agency is extended into the sky through this very powerful pictorial device. To be simultaneously solid and transparent – a dark Dionysus framing Apollo’s light. Given Nolan’s great interest in poetry, I cannot go past images conjured in T.S. Elliott’s ‘the Hollow Men’ (1925). While this poem might not be comparable in thematic, as far as imagery goes the poet’s utterances of “shape without form, shade without colour…”, “The eyes are not here, There are no eyes here…”, “Behaving as the wind behaves” and of course, the poems title, are all evocative of Nolan’s eventual 1946 Ned Kelly portrayal. We simultaneously look at Kelly and look through him, but from behind, as with Casper David Frederich’s Wander Above the Sea of Fog (1818) (this time on a plain rather than a peak). As with Frederich’s figure, we assume we are seeing what Kelly is seeing before him – a vast open expanse. However, instead of us simply looking at Kelly who in turn ‘looks out’, Kelly is looking back at us through the sky itself. He is there before us and already away, taking Nolan with him, into the afternoon, then evening, and into a posterity of open sky and brilliant stars. " Shaun Gladwell was born in 1972 in Sydney, Australia and currently lives and works in London. He is widely considered Australia’s foremost video installation artists but also works across, performance, choreography, painting, photography, sculpture and writing. Sidney Nolan, Ned Kelly, 1946, enamel paint on composition board, 90.8 x 121.5 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gift of Sunday Reed 1977

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9. Young Soldier - Clare Woods

9. Young Soldier - Clare Woods

"My first meeting with the image of this painting was in a roadside hedge between Kington and Prestigne on the Welsh border. The poster was for an exhibition of works titled Gallipoli by Sidney Nolan at the The Rodd. Firstly this did not feel like any of the Sidney Nolan works I knew and secondly it looked so out of place in this verdant British summer setting, this displaced image instantly worked its magic on me and so we pulled in. Walking down the gravel drive from the field where we had parked, into what at that time can only be described as a farmyard into a large drafty barn and there it was. It greeted us - a vibrant large glossy pink painting that still looked wet to the touch. There were many other works around the barn but this was the painting that caught me and held me and would not let go. It would not let me look at anything else. This haunting image of a young man feels so empty and broken. There is a heavily painted blue over the nose and around two holes where the eyes should peer out, all that is revealed is green emptiness. The mouth is expressionless and looks as if it would never open. The hat, crumpled looking, sits onto a flat head that does not support any ears. The figure is mute, blind and deaf yet the monochrome background is yelling at me, it is so loud. Shouting from behind this shell shocked figure ‘can you see?’" Clare Woods was born in Southampton in 1972 and lives and works in London and Herefordshire. She completed an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmith’s College, London in 1999, after a BA in Fine Art at Bath College of Art, Bath, in 1994. Sidney Nolan, Young Soldier, 1977, Ripolin and oil on board,122.0 x 91.5 cms, Private collection, © Sidney Nolan Trust

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8. In the Cave - Rebecca Daniels

8. In the Cave - Rebecca Daniels

“Nolan was deeply interested in Aboriginal art and repeatedly used images of rock art in his painting because to him its relevance was more than just the link to Australia. Rather, it represented ‘the imprint of prehistoric man …the beginning of art’. In the Cave is a work from the Mrs Fraser and convict series and Nolan represents the figure of Mrs Fraser as an outline while Bracewell is seen wearing the distinctive striped clothes of a prisoner. In 1947, Nolan had travelled to Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland where stencilled handprints had been present on the rocks for over 3,500 years. Nolan was inspired by these and used them in the design of his costumes for The Rite of Spring. He borrowed the Aboriginal system of using hand prints of different sizes and spacings for ranking people. For The Chosen One's costume Cynthia Nolan had cut handprints out of newspaper and Nolan had pinned them to the dancer before they were printed. In line with the sacrificial theme of the ballet, Nolan said he wanted to create the feeling of a naked body being touched and thrown in the air. Nolan transported the setting from Russia to the prehistoric arid Australian outback. His aim was to make the setting universal while remaining close to the atmosphere created by Stravinsky’s rhythmic score. The production of The Rite of Spring at the Royal Opera House in 1962 was a triumph and it is still being performed with the Nolan costumes to this day. It was last revived in 2013 with Claudia Dean, the Australian dancer, in the role of The Chosen One. Dame Monica Mason oversaw rehearsals. Both these works are on display at the exhibition, ‘Transferences: Sidney Nolan in Britain’ that I have curated at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, opening tomorrow (18th February 2017).” Dr Rebecca Daniels is a Trustee of the Sidney Nolan Trust and was associate editor of Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonne (2016); she lectures widely and has published on Henri Matisse and Walter Sickert. Transferences: Sidney Nolan in Britain runs at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, from 18th February to 4th June 2017. An illustrated publication accompanies the exhibition, available from Pallant House Gallery and the Sidney Nolan Trust. Visit the Royal Opera House website for information about The Rite of Spring: http://www.roh.org.uk/productions/the-rite-of-spring-by-kenneth-macmillan Sidney Nolan, In the Cave, c.1957, Polyvinyl acetate on board, 121.9 × 152.4 cm, Tate, London, © Sidney Nolan Trust Monica Mason as The Chosen One at the Royal Opera House, London, 1962 by Axel Poignant, gelatin silver photograph, printed 1981, 34 × 29.5 cm, Courtesy Roslyn Poignant, Axel Poignant Archive

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7. Vivisector - Tim Abdallah

7. Vivisector - Tim Abdallah

"Nowadays I have day to day involvement with Sid’s work. Our firm handled the sale of First Class Marksman, 1946 in March 2010 for AUS $5.4m, still the Australian art market record price for a work of art. My best memory of Nolan goes back to 1985, however. In 1985 I was a young, I think the word is ‘callow’, director of a commercial art gallery in Melbourne. In August 1985 we opened a German branch of the gallery in Cologne. Through the kind intercession of Elwyn Lynn, we were able to launch our new venture with an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Nolan, a fantastic coup. Sid and Mary came to visit and attend the opening. I was a babe in the woods, the gallery was a bit under-funded, however Sid was very gracious and the opening went well, two good oils were sold, the Director of the Wallraf-Richartz museum paid us a visit and the exhibition was the subject of a review in the Kölner Stadtanzeiger. Sid and Mary spent 2-3 days in Cologne enjoying the sights. I remember visiting the museum with Sid and listening to his thoughts on the paintings we looked at. It was completely fascinating. The exhibition we had included some paintings from the series Nolan painted as a response to the fuss created by Patrick White’s Flaws in The Glass. As is widely known, Nolan was criticised by White in the book and the friendship they had enjoyed ended in fairly lurid circumstances. Several of the paintings we showed (the best ones, in my opinion) were pretty uncompromising, if not downright vicious. I remember standing in front of one of the paintings and being fairly amazed that the spat had come to this and wondered to Sid if he thought that he might be able to bury the hatchet with White. Sid responded, “Oh no, it’s far too good for that!” Clearly Nolan was enjoying the fight and relishing the artistic possibilities it offered. The art was more important than the friendship. If my memory serves me correctly, it was this painting I was standing in front of when the conversation recorded above took place." Tim Abdallah is Head of Australian Art at Menzies Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers, Australia.

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6. Dog and Duck Hotel - Jane Clark

6. Dog and Duck Hotel - Jane Clark

"I didn’t include Dog and Duck Hotel in Sidney Nolan’s 70th birthday retrospective exhibition. It was hanging in his sitting room at The Rodd and he didn’t seem keen when I broached the possibility of borrowing it for an eight-month Australian tour. It seemed so firmly and yet ironically ensconced: inversely emblematic of his transplantation from a working class, urban, colonial upbringing to that 17th-century manor farm in England’s green and pleasant land. A painting of a wide-verandahed building set mirage-like against sunbaked earth, with a name somehow redolent of an English duckhunter’s cosy pub. Hanging on a half-timbered wall above chintz-upholstered sofas and Lady Nolan serving tea. Anyway, the Art Gallery of New South Wales had already agreed to lend their Pretty Polly Mine, painted the same year, the first acquisition of Nolan’s work by any public gallery; from the same 1949 series of far north Queensland outback paintings of which reviewer Harry Tatlock Miller had written, ‘I can remember no other exhibition by a contemporary Australian which, with such seemingly disarming innocence of eye and hand, reveals so much individuality of vision… Creatures of the air, he gaily tells us, flew gaudily, unreal, over desert, swamp, rock and river, … a land which existed at the dawn of history’.1 I’d first seen Dog and Duck on a Qantas airways in-flight menu brought home by my grandparents. Unforgettable. Even in reproduction, as Tatlock Miller put it so well, ‘These pictures remain in the mind persistently flavouring the following hours’. Nolan had written to fellow artist Albert Tucker from North Queensland in 1947 about finding a surprisingly old-fashioned Englishness in the ‘lovely old hotels & shops that have been the same for seventy years’; so far distant even from Melbourne, let alone England. And yet, joining a Royal Geographical Society expedition to the Cape York Peninsula and out west to the Carnarvon Range, he described ‘feeling perhaps that a large part of the energy of Australia is contained there’.2 Apparently he did meet a mine manager who fed the local parrots. Who knows if he really found a hotel called ‘Dog and Duck’. No duck ever flew like this one, dangling in the sky. And the small eponymous dog is scarcely there. We do know that the painting was made from memory. Nolan’s habit was to imprint visually almost without seeming to look, storing images indelibly in his imagination for the future; sometimes taking photographs; often writing short encapsulations in notebooks as an aide-mémoire. Back in Sydney, he worked through much of 1948 painting shopfronts, farm machinery, abandoned and working mines, prospectors, explorers, anthills, and seemingly empty desertscapes, as well as birds and old hotels. He painted quickly, here using glossy Ripolin enamel for the clear blue sky (Picasso had called it ‘healthy paint’) and leaving the reddish brown hardboard bare for much of the lower part of the composition: ‘a minimum of matter to give the maximum effect in the manner of a lyric poet’, as the Sydney Morning Herald’s art critic wrote of his technique.3 The 1949 exhibition sold well. Sir Kenneth Clark bought Little Dog Mine: as Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford and former director of the London National Gallery, he was very influential and arguably launched Nolan’s international career. Dog and Duck Hotel went to the Sydney collector Mervyn Horton, later founding editor of Art and Australia. It passed next, in 1972, for the then Australian-record price of $60,000 to Alistair McAlpine who later sold it back to Sidney. Having seen the painting ‘for real’ at The Rodd, I was rather sad, though greatly honoured, to oversee its sale in 2001 as part of The Estate of Sir Sidney Nolan when I was Deputy Chairman at Sotheby’s in Melbourne: the highest-priced lot in the auction. But we met again, picture and I. When I came to work for Mona, in Tasmania — in 2007, before the museum was built — Dog and Duck Hotel had changed hands again and was owned my new boss, David Walsh. It amuses, intrigues, impresses, and inspires me every time I look." 1. The Sun, Sydney, 8 March 1949. 2. 6 and 23 November 1947, quoted in Patrick McCaughey, Bert & Ned: The correspondence of Albert Tucker and Sidney Nolan, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2006, pp. 67, 71. 3. Paul Haefliger, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 December 1949.

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5. Desert - Andrew Logan

5. Desert - Andrew Logan

"I sat between Sidney and Mary at a lunch and felt We had known each other all our lives. We talked of nature, life, friends, family and art. It was instant love. Two days later Sidney died. I continued to see Mary as my museum The Andrew Logan Museum Of Sculpture is close to the Rodd. A mere moment in our lives but a deep meaningful one. I knew and had seen Sidney's paintings over the years. I chose DESERT 1986 - art gallery NSW An explosion of colour and paint in this Wonderful expression of pure joy of living."

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4. Riverbend I - Francine Stock

4. Riverbend I - Francine Stock

"In just three weeks over the winter of 1964/65, Sidney Nolan executed this massive series – nine panels, each five foot by four - depicting Ned Kelly playing catch-as-catch-can with the police along a creek winding between towering eucalyptus. It was nearly twenty years since his first Kelly series; Nolan was painting now beside another river, the Thames at Putney. In the paintings, the relationship between land and protagonists had changed, too. Like much of Nolan’s work, these nine images (which also serve as one huge landscape) are cinematic, immersive. Like time, the river flows. The drama plays out not as sequential story-board (though there’s narrative) but in accumulated detail. The figures are dwarfed by the gliding river and the hot, aromatic forest. In the first panel, despite Kelly’s distinctive helmet, their bodies could be strips of bark on the gum trees, almost phosphorescent from the refracted glare of the unseen sky. When Nolan was painting Riverbend I I was a child living in Melbourne. For my seventh birthday, an adult cousin gave me a book of the Kelly series with commentary by Robert Melville. Decades later, back in Britain, I’d find a glorious reproduction of Riverbend I and yearn to see it in the ANU collection at the Drill Hall Gallery in Canberra, not so much for the Kelly story as the evocation of a remembered landscape. By then, I’d encountered Nolan’s influence in films …Walkabout, Wake in Fright, The Proposition, Mad Max even… an influence that was always experimental, travelling through time and space to convey the strongest sense of place."

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3. Arabian Tree - Kendrah Morgan

3. Arabian Tree - Kendrah Morgan

"A highlight of the Heide Museum of Modern Art collection, Sidney Nolan’s enigmatic and lyrical painting Arabian Tree is one of the artist’s early masterpieces. In composition and mood it echoes Marc Chagall’s Lovers Among Lilacs (1930, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY), reproduced in Herbert Read’s important text Art Now, (1933), with which Nolan was familiar. A similarly dreamlike image, Nolan’s picture is redolent with allusions to his ill-fated romance with Melbourne art benefactor Sunday Reed, then at its height. The work is also significant for its connection to a famous literary hoax and it therefore occupies a fascinating place in Australian cultural history. Nolan painted Arabian Tree during his involvement with the progressive Melbourne publishing firm Reed & Harris, which produced the radical cultural journal Angry Penguins in the early 1940s. The picture was intended specifically for the cover of a special edition of Angry Penguins dedicated to the poetry of Ern Malley—a mysterious figure later revealed as a fictitious character invented by two young Sydney poets, James McAuley and Harold Stewart. McAuley and Stewart sent the fake Malley poems to Max Harris, Angry Penguins’ co-editor, in October 1943. Convinced that Malley was a major talent, Harris and John Reed—Sunday’ husband—published the verses in May 1944, after which the hoax was exposed. McAuley and Stewart, who claimed concern for the destruction of craftsmanship and value of meaning in avant-garde poetry, achieved their aim of discrediting Reed & Harris and the modernist art and literature the firm promoted. The hoaxers had composed the Malley poems using randomly selected quotes from the works of literary giants such as Shakespeare and Mallarmé, as well as a rhyming dictionary, army manuals, their own writings, and various other low brow sources. Nonetheless the verses contained some fine rhyming structure and beautiful imagery. Nolan found them a powerful source of inspiration and for Arabian Tree he drew from the poem ‘Petit Testament’, inscribing the work with the following lines: I said to my love (who is living) Dear we shall never be that verb Perched on the sole Arabian Tree The painting depicts an idealised realm in which the lovers are suspended forever in the lush green foliage of the solitary tree, shielded from external reality. The setting is the Wimmera region in north-east Victoria where Nolan was stationed in the army from 1942–44 and includes the distinctive form of Mitre Rock near Mt Arapiles in the background. Although Arabian Tree will be forever linked with the Ern Malley hoax and the downfall of Angry Penguins, it also remains a personal letter of romantic longing—an evocation of lovers transcending earthly constraints to unite in a private paradise." Kendrah Morgan is Curator at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. Sidney Nolan, Arabian tree 1943, enamel on plywood, 91.8 x 61 cm, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, Bequest of John and Sunday Reed 1982

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2. Self Portrait - Angus Trumble

2. Self Portrait - Angus Trumble

"By the time he painted this self-portrait in 1988, the artist rejoiced in the style and title of Sir Sidney Nolan, OM, AC, CBE, RA. In the year of the bicentenary of European settlement of the continent “Nolan,” as he signs himself here, was by far the most eminent living Australian artist, one of relatively few who achieved and sustained an international reputation in the last century - yet he had for decades settled permanently in Britain. The previous year Nolan had celebrated his seventieth birthday. This generated a flurry of celebratory media attention and events. Most notably, in June 1987, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne launched its Sidney Nolan, Landscapes & Legends: A Retrospective Exhibition: 1937–1987, which later toured to Sydney, Perth, and Adelaide. Also that year Brian Adams published his biography 'Sidney Nolan: Such is Life' and released a documentary film of the same title. Nolan’s stature as a public figure had never been higher. What, then, are we to make of Nolan’s present vision of himself? The smudged inky blues, pinks and subtle browns and greys are characteristic of the artist’s late style. The face is elusive, hazy, veiled, with the head apparently hovering uncertainly between the profile and three-quarter views. The left eye is occluded - partly obscured by his spectacles. The artist’s gaze is, at the very least, averted - as much from himself as from the viewer. Ultimately, the painting is ambiguous, seeming, like all Nolan’s self-portraits, to allude simultaneously to the mask-like character of his public persona, but also to his more complex, certainly introspective poetic imagination. Any suggestion of sculptural monumentality he brings to his own, larger than life-sized head and shoulders seems to be gently mocked by the nervous stripey necktie so tightly knotted at his throat. As my predecessor, the late Andrew Sayers has written, “To some extent the final self-portrait of 1988 is an address to those critics who saw him as having achieved nothing of greatness after Kelly. Or perhaps it was addressed to those, like his one-time friend Patrick White, who mocked what they saw as the artist’s incongruous adoption of the mask of rebellious Kelly and the cloak of English public success." Angus Trumble has been Director of the National Portrait Gallery of Australia since 2014. Sidney Nolan, Self-Portrait, 1988, oil on composition board,121.5 x 91.5 cm; National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; Gift of The Hon. R. L. Hunter, QC, 2006. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2006.

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1. Four Abstracts - Alexander Downer

1. Four Abstracts - Alexander Downer

"In this centenary year, it is exciting that this bold and iconic series will be reunited to showcase the depth, quality and international appeal of Sidney Nolan’s art – and his enduring connection with the United Kingdom. This piece in particular is striking and, in many ways, reflects the contemporary, vibrant and optimistic Australia we live in today. I admire the way Australian artists can connect and share the story of our colourful nation where so much beauty and inspiration can be drawn from our vast and diverse geography. I am delighted they will be on display here in the Exhibition Hall at Australia House as we celebrate the centenary of Sidney Nolan in 2017." Hon Alexander Downer AC is the Australian High Commisioner to the UK. These abstracts will be on view to the general public at the Australian High Commission from 21st April to 5th May. Click here for details. Sidney Nolan, four abstracts, 1986, enamel spray on canvas, 305x457cm, Collection of the Sidney Nolan Trust, © Sidney Nolan Trust

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