SIDNEY NOLAN

A New Retrospective was recently display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2 Nov 2007 - 3 Feb 2008

Sidney Nolan is one of Australia's most loved and respected painters of the Modern era. 

Born on April 22, 1917. Sidney Nolan's parents had four children, of which Sidney was the eldest. He grew up in the Melbourne seaside suburb of St Kilda.  In his early teens Sidney had shown a desire to be an artist, and began a part time correspondence course at the Prahran Technical College. Aged 14 Sidney Nolan left School to attend the Arts and Crafts course there, and by age 16 he was employed in advertising, making displays for hats. Further art education was undertaken at the art school at the National Gallery of Victoria, where he undertook evening courses in the mid 1930's. Much later he would also study in Paris, France.

For Sidney Nolan, it was the meeting of certain key individuals that formed the artistic and intellectual discussions on which all else followed. In the 1930s he met artists Arthur Boyd, John Perceval, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester, who were to become, like Sidney Nolan, iconic Australian painters of the period. Perhaps equally important was his introduction to John and Sunday Reed, the two most important arts patrons of the mid century, and whose support and intellectual stimulus would provide much for the artistic developments which were to follow. 

During World War Two, Sidney Nolan was sent for training in the Dimboola region of rural Australia. The area was to provide an important source of imagery for Nolan, which he returned to imaginatively subsequently in his life. Sidney Nolan and army life were , however, not to agree with each other, and he deserted, "hiding out" in the house of John and Sunday Reed.

It was soon after the war that Sidney Nolan began his iconic Ned Kelly series, perhaps amongst the most famous images in Australian Art. They are notable for their blending of personal, some would say autobiographical, content in a superficially historical genre, while the concerns are equally painterly as they are about the extension of a narrative. The various aspects of the Kelly "story", from idyllic home life, Kelly's tension with the police, siege, capture and trial are, in some respect merely useful stagings for radical experiments in the use of figure, form and landscape, unique in the history of Australian Art. 

The first of these paintings were completed at Heide, at a time when he was undergoing an affair with Sunday Reed - an affair that was open knowledge to all the individuals in the so-called "Heide Circle". Sunday, however, was determined she would not leave her husband John for Sidney, and in a pique Nolan married John Reed's sister, Cynthia.

While Nolan's Ned Kelly works are his most well known, his paintings later of the ill-fated Burke and Wills explorers, and Eliza Fraser, are no less psychologically complex and artistically innovative.

Sidney Nolan's relationships with women were often fraught. He first married in 1938 to Elizabeth, but the relationship broke down over his continued and increasing infatuation with John and Sunday Reed, and the bohemian circle that was growing around their house in Heide, Victoria. His relationship with Sunday subsequently broke down, for emotional reasons but also over ownership of many of the Ned Kelly works, with whom Sunday had collaborated with Sidney Nolan intellectually. 

 Sunday Reed Milking a Cow at Heide

Sidney Nolan's marriage to his second wife Cynthia was no more happy, with several of Sidney Nolan's friends highly critical of his attitude towards his wife. This eventually led to a split with his long running friend Patrick White, the Nobel prize winning author who shared many of Nolan's creative themes in literature.

After the important Ned Kelly period of artistic development of the late 1940s, Sidney Nolan left Australia for the UK, and he lived in London for a further forty years. Like his friend Arthur Boyd, it  was from London that he completed some of his most iconic representations of the Australian bush. 

In the late 1970's Sidney Nolan further enmeshed his key art and life relationships by marrying Mary Boyd (part of the Boyd artistic family) and the ex-wife of John Percival.

Sidney Nolan was also an accomplished printmaker, illustrator, and set designer for the theatre. Nolan was awarded an OM, AC, and was knighted for his services to Visual Arts in 1981. 

Sidney died on the 28th of November, 1992, in the UK.

"When the critics come around it's always too late."

- Sidney Nolan