In the Cave, 1957

Sidney Nolan, In the Cave, c.1957, Polyvinyl acetate on board, 121.9 × 152.4 cm, Tate, London, © Sidney Nolan Trust

Dr Rebecca Daniels was 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.

“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).”

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