Sidney Nolan


Sidney Nolan
Sidney Nolan

Sidney Nolan, 1940s, by Albert Tucker
Birth name Sidney Robert Nolan
Born 22 April 1917(1917-04-22)
Carlton, Victoria, Australia
Died 28 November 1992(1992-11-28) (aged 75)
London, England
Nationality Australian
Field Painter

Sir Sidney Robert Nolan OM, AC (22 April 1917 – 28 November 1992) was one of Australia's best-known painters and printmakers.

Contents

Early life

Nolan was born in Carlton, a suburb of Melbourne, on 22 April 1917. He was the eldest of four children. His family later moved to St Kilda. Nolan attended the Brighton Road State School and then Brighton Technical School and left school aged 14. He enrolled at the Prahran Technical College (now part of Swinburne University), Department of Design and Crafts, in a course which he had already begun part-time by correspondence. From 1933, at the age of 16, he began almost six years of work for Fayrefield Hats, Abbotsford, producing advertising and display stands with spray paints and dyes. From 1934 he attended night classes sporadically at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School.[1]

Personal life

Nolan was a close friend of the arts patrons John and Sunday Reed, and is regarded as one of the leading figures of the so-called "Heide Circle" that also included Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, Arthur Boyd and John Perceval.

In 1938, he met and married his first wife Elizabeth, but his marriage soon broke up because of his increasing involvement with the Reeds. He joined the Angry Penguins in the 1940s.

After deserting from the army during World War II,[2][3] Nolan lived for some time at the Reeds' home, "Heide" outside Melbourne (now the Heide Museum of Modern Art). Here he painted the first canvasses in his famous, iconic "Ned Kelly" series, reportedly with input from Sunday Reed. Nolan also conducted an open affair with Sunday Reed at this time although he married John Reed's sister, Cynthia in 1948, after Sunday refused to leave her husband and marry him. In 1978, he married Mary Boyd, a member of the Boyd artistic family and the former wife of John Perceval.[4]

Career

The Trial (1947): enamel on composition board; 90.7 x 121.2cm, National Gallery of Australia

Nolan painted a wide range of personal interpretations of historical and legendary figures, including explorers Burke and Wills, and Eliza Fraser.

Probably his most famous work is a series of stylised descriptions of the bushranger Ned Kelly in the Australian Outback. Nolan left the famous 1946-47 series of 27 Ned Kellys at "Heide", when he left it in emotionally-charged circumstances. Although he once wrote to Sunday Reed to tell her to take what she wanted, he subsequently demanded all his works back. Sunday Reed returned 284 other paintings and drawings to Nolan, but she refused to give up the 25 remaining Kellys, partly because she saw the works as fundamental to the proposed Heide Museum of Modern Art.[5] Possibly also because she collaborated with Nolan on the paintings.[4] Eventually, she gave them to the National Gallery of Australia in 1977 and this resolved the dispute. Nolan's Ned Kelly series follow the main sequence of the Kelly story. However Nolan did not intend the series to be an authentic depiction of these events. Rather, these episodes/series became the setting for the artist's meditations upon universal themes of injustice, love and betrayal. The Kelly saga was also a way for Nolan to paint the Australian landscape in new ways, with the story giving meaning to the place.

Although the Depression and World War II happened during this period, Nolan decided to concentrate on something other than people struggling in life. Nolan wanted to create and define episodes in Australian nationalism, to retell the story of a hero. A hero which now has become a metaphor for humankind — the fighter, the victim, and the hero — resisting tyranny with a passion for freedom. Nolan recognised that the conceptual image of the black square (Kelly's helmet and armour) had been part of modern art since World War I. Nolan just placed a pair of eyes into Kelly's helmet which animates its formal shape. As in most of the series, Kelly's steel head guard dominates the composition. Nolan also concentrates on the Australian outback and shows a different landscape in nearly every painting. Nolan's paintings give the audience an insight into the history of Australia but also show others from the world how beautiful Australia is. The intensity of the colours of the land and bush along with its overall smooth texture help create harmony between legend, symbol and visual impact. Kelly is in the centre of the painting but the colours around him help make him stand out. It's a very simplistic picture but highlights that Ned Kelly is an Australian icon.

Nolan never relied upon one style or technique, but rather experimented throughout his lifetime with many different methods of application, and also devised some of his own. Nolan was inspired by children's art and modernist painting of the early 20th century. During this time many younger artists were veering towards abstraction, Nolan remained committed to the figurative potential of painting. In terms of art history Nolan rediscovered the Australian landscape (Australia has not been an easy country to paint). His love of literature is seen as visually evident in his work. Other key influences were the modernist artists such as Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Henri Rousseau. Locally, the arrival of the Russian artist Danila Vassilieff in Melbourne, with his simple and direct art, was significant for Nolan.

In his series, Kelly is a metaphor for Nolan himself. Nolan, like the bushranger, was a fugitive from the law. In July 1944 Nolan faced the possibility that he would be sent to Papua New Guinea on front line duty, so he went absent without leave. So when he created this series he viewed himself as the misunderstood hero/artist like the protagonist, Kelly. ‘Nolan like this Kelly figure has also been a hero, a victim, a man who armoured himself against Australia and who faced it, conquered it, lost it…. ambiguity personified’.[6]

Nolan's Ned Kelly series is one of the greatest sequences of Australian paintings of the 20th century. His simplified depiction of Kelly in his armour has become an iconic Australian image.

Paintings of Dimboola landscapes by Sidney Nolan, who was stationed in the area while on army duty in World War II, can be found in the National Gallery of Victoria.

In 1951, Nolan moved to London, England.[7] He travelled in Europe, spending a year in 1956 painting themes based on Greek Mythology while in Greece. In Paris, he studied engraving and lithography with S. W. Hayter at Studio 17t two years there. He became friends with the poet Robert Lowell and produced illustrations for some of his books.

In England, Nolan attended the Aldeburgh Festival and become influenced by the organiser and composer Benjamin Britten, exhibiting paintings at the festivals. He continued to travel widely in Europe, Africa, China, Australia, and even Antarctica.

In 1981, Nolan was appointed a Knight Bachelor for service to art; he received the Order of Merit in 1983. In the summer of 1983, Nolan settled in Herefordshire. The Sidney Nolan Trust was established in 1985 to support artists and musicians, and provide exhibition space for works by Nolan and others at The Rodd, north of Kington, Herefordshire and just in England near Presteigne, Powys, Wales.[7]

Nolan was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in 1988. He was also elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a member of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Nolan is also known for his theatrical set designs and book illustrations.

Legacy

During the Tin Symphony segment of the 2000 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, a multitiude of performers donned stylised costumes based on Nolan's distinctive Ned Kelly imagery, and a painting from Nolan's original 1946-47 Ned Kelly series was displayed on a giant screen in the stadium.[8]

In 2010, First-Class Marksman (1946) became the most expensive Australian painting ever sold. Dubbed "the missing Nolan", the painting was the only one in Nolan's first series of 27 Ned Kelly paintings not in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. It was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for $5.4 million.[9]

The cinematography for English film director Nicholas Roeg's 1971 Australian film Walkabout was heavily influenced by Nolan. The small boy's hallucination of camel riders in the desert was a direct reference to Nolan's Burke and Wills paintings.[10]

Monty Python's famous Bruces sketch depicts stereotypical lounging Australians. In the TV version, "Sidney Nolan!" is used by the characters as an expletive.

Two of Nolan's paintings, The Abandoned Mine (1948) and Ned Kelly (1955) were included in Quintessence Editions Ltd.'s 2007 book 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die.[11]

See also

  • Visual arts of Australia

References

  1. ^ Tremlett, Clayton (2006). "Unmasked: Sidney Nolan and Ned Kelly 1950–1990" (pdf). Education Kit. Heide Museum of Modern Art. http://www.heide.com.au/downloads/Unmasked_Nolan_Education_kit.pdf. Retrieved 2008-03-03. 
  2. ^ "Sir Sidney Nolan (1917-1992): Biography". Featured artists. Eva Breuer art dealer. 2007. http://www.evabreuerartdealer.com.au/nolan_paintings/_pages/nolan_bio.html. Retrieved 2008-02-22. "1942-44 Conscripted into the Army, stationed in the Wimmera. Went absent without leave in July 1944" 
  3. ^ Pearce, Barry (2007). "Sidney Nolan: A New Retrospective". Unleashed. Australian Broadcasting Corporation: abc.net.au. http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2085557.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-22. "Nolan left the Wimmera in 1944, deserting the army for fear of being sent to the war front in New Guinea" 
  4. ^ a b Thomas, Sarah (2004). "Cultivating Controversy (Review of Janine Burke, The Heart Garden: Sunday Reed and Heide)". http://home.vicnet.net.au/~abr/Nov04/Thomas.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-22. "Burke provocatively suggests that Sunday collaborated with him on some of his most famous works, the Kelly series among them. "The Kellys are Sunday and Nolan's swansong," Burke writes, "the last brilliant burst of their creative duet." What is most problematic here is that speculation " that Sunday painted the floor tiles and possibly the patchwork quilt in two of Nolan's paintings " is conveyed as fact. Burke's evidence is unconvincing, the main source being a quote from a subsequent letter from John Reed to Nolan, when the friendship between them had soured, that read: "Your paintings were part of your contribution [to Heide], even though you said Sunday painted them as much as you did " you said all your paintings were for Sunday, and I am quite sure you did not think of them otherwise. They were created with her in a sense which is almost literal, and it is certain without her, without your life at Heide, a great many would never have been painted." Surely the description of Sunday's contribution as being "almost literal" runs counter to Burke's argument?" 
  5. ^ Burke, Janine (January 2004). The Heart Garden: Sunday Reed and Heide. Milsons Point, New South Wales: Random House. p. 350. ISBN 1-74051-202-2. 
  6. ^ The Bulletin magazine 29 December 1962
  7. ^ a b The Sidney Nolan Trust. The Rodd, Presteigne, Herefordshire, England. (Leaflet) www.sidneynolantrust.org
  8. ^ Seal, Graham. Outlaw Heroes in Myth and History. Anthem Press, 2011. ISBN 0857287923, p. 99
  9. ^ Fulton, Adam (26 March 2010). "Record $5.4m for Nolan", The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  10. ^ Walkabout, aso.gov.au. Retrieved on 16 October 2011.
  11. ^ 1001 Before You Die

Bibliography

External links


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