Nolan Centenary Update IV

Posted by on Aug 17, 2017 in Nolan | 0 comments

What a pleasure to advise that a Nolan exhibition curated especially for his Centenary year, the first such in Australia, is about to open in MELBOURNE.

Sidney Nolan, Untitled, 1956

Sidney Nolan: the Greek Series launches at the Hellenic Museum on 24 August 2017 and runs until 31 October. For more details check the website here. Another first, at least to my knowledge, is a recourse to crowdfunding which serves to highlight the parlous state of Arts funding. However it does give to all reading this, the opportunity to put our money where our hearts are. Please consider your contribution here.

“Still fresh!” said Nolan running his fingers over the spots of blood on the very first of his first series Kelly paintings The death of Sergeant Kennedy at Stringybark Creek. Chairman Clift relays this tale in a delightful piece of writing on the occasion she, her husband George Johnstone, and Director Hal Missingham were with Nolan at AGNSW when the crates were unpacked for his 1967 Retrospective revealing works the artist had not seen for decades.1 And it was the Greek island of Hydra – where Nolan and his wife Cynthia lived for several months in 1955/6 in company with a group of Bohemian expatriates including Johnstone, Clift, Peter Finch, Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen – that fuelled and inspired an Odyssean quest in Nolan, and produced ‘still fresh’ works such as these 61 currently on loan from the Estate of Lady Nolan, and never before exhibited in Australia as a single body of work. Credit to the Director of the Hellenic Museum, John Tatoulis, for supporting such an exhibition. Co-curated by Sarah Craig, curator of the Hellenic Museum, and Mark Fraser – a Nolan devotee without rival in the depth of his experience with the works in the Nolan Estate, his time with major auction houses and with David Walsh at MONA – Sidney Nolan: The Greek Series should be a truly unique exhibition, a must see.


Today I learned that the 2017 Dundas Memorial Lecture at AGNSW is to be given this Saturday 19 August 2017, by Dr Paula Dredge,  the Gallery’s head of painting conservation. Dr Dredge has made the analytical and historical study of the household paints used by Sidney Nolan the focus of several years research and scholarship leading to her doctorate in 2013 and culminating this year in a research residency at Nolan’s studio at the ‘The Rodd’, located in the English countryside of Herefordshire.

In this lecture, Paula will reveal exciting new evidence about Nolan’s painting techniques and materials, as well as insight into the extraordinary legacy preserved inside the Nolan studio. Further details, including time and location, can be found here.


In mid-November, Mark Fraser is again curating – this time with Heide curator Kendrah Morgan – what may well prove to be an exhibition of great interest to the Nolan aficionado. To be housed in Heide I, the old farmhouse where Nolan lived, loved and painted from 1941 to 1947, Nolan at the Newsagent will examine and, as far as possible, recreate an exhibition in the window of Sheffield’s newsagency in Heidelberg of a number of his early works. The Sheffield exhibition was the idea of Nolan’s benefactors, John and Sunday Reed, to take art ‘to the people’ rather than to an exclusive audience in an art gallery. The ‘people’ however were singularly unimpressed and all works, mostly experimental landscape images but low priced, remained unsold.

Nolan’s one man exhibition, Sheffield’s news agency, Heidelberg, July 1942

For more details of Nolan at the Newsagent check the Heide website here. It will be fascinating to look for matches like Girl and Horse below, which can be seen in some of the contemporary photographs above. Listed at $90,000 in Eva Breuer’s April 2002 catalogue Sidney Nolan: Paintings and Works on Paper 1940 – 1985, it would have been a great buy at Sheffield’s where the highest price of any work was 3 guineas.

Sidney Nolan, Girl and Horse, 1941


Meanwhile things continue apace in the UK. The exhibition of Nolan’s late spray-painted portraits at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham must be an extraordinary visual experience if the catalogue (obtainable here or here) is anything to go by. Imagine eighteen 180 x 160 cm works, side by side with a further six 150 x 150 cm works and a revealing 150 x 120 cm self-portrait. The portrait of Brett Whiteley is seen below, and the Ikon website has more than two dozen photographs providing a good sense of the impact of this exhibition, which closes on 3 September 2017.

Sidney Nolan, Brett Whiteley, 1982

The Nolan 100 listings continue to fascinate and perhaps more than any of the many other activities undertaken by the Nolan Trust, incline me to the view that their stated aim of bringing Nolan and his works to a new audience may well be succeeding, and admirably so.  Now up to No 60 in the Nolan 100, we are beginning to see choices of paintings we’ve perhaps not seen before made by people we’ve perhaps not heard of before. A new band of informed enthusiasts, no less! I was particularly heartened by the introductory comment to No 55, the choice of young Exhibition Assistant at Ikon Gallery, Oliver McCall, who began “I’ll admit that until this year I’d never heard of Sidney Nolan. My first encounter with his work came shortly after I joined the exhibitions team at Ikon, Birmingham.” And now he knows Nolan’s work – as will all in his social media network! One can only think that the man himself would have been tickled pink. But then were he still alive, Nolan’s innovative streak most likely would have seen him in social media networks quite some time ago – his postcards, after all, preempted 140 character Tweets by 60 years!


Work continues on Imagining in Excited Reverie, the Centenary tribute to Nolan of the website Since the last update in late April just one tribute has been posted – an insightful essay by Judith White, Mick and Sid: Explorers of the Australian landscape, which explores landscape in the paint of Sidney Nolan and the pen of Randolph Stow, and in the excited reverie of their imaginative minds. Further tributes are imminent, with contributors including Jane Clark, Lesley Harding, Amelda Langslow, Felicity Moore, Kendrah Morgan, Elijah Moshinsky, Simon Pierse, Damian Smith, Andrew Turley.

  1. Chairman Clift, Uncrating Mr Nolan”, The World of Chairman Clift, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1970, p. 74.

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