aCOMMENT on Nolan

Posted by on Apr 26, 2016 in aCOMMENT | 0 comments

In 2011 the website aCOMMENT began publishing detailed and well researched essays on selected topics relating to Sidney Nolan.  Synopses of these essays, and links to them, follow. The most recent are listed first.



Nolan Centenary Update IV

Posted on August 17, 2017

This fourth update announces two forthcoming exhibitions in Melbourne curated especially for the Centenary, the first such in Australia this year. Sidney Nolan: the Greek Series opens at the Hellenic Museum on 25 August, and Nolan at the Newsagent opens at Heide on 18 November. On 19 August AGNSW hosts an important lecture Nolan’s modern paints: materials of an artistic outlaw by Paula Dredge, recently returned from a Rodd residency. The article also examines the apparent success of the Nolan Trust’s endeavours to bring Nolan and his work to a new band of enthusiasts.



Auction of significant Nolan painting

Posted on August 9, 2017

On Fraser Island in October 1947, Nolan painted a series of striking landscapes and figurative works, twelve of which were exhibited at Brisbane’s Moreton Galleries in February 1948. It was his first show in a commercial gallery, but hardly a success – the painting Swamp was the only work sold off the wall.  This first Nolan painting ever sold by a commercial gallery went to auction at Menzies on 1o August 2017. The article examines Swamp’s provenance and in suggesting it should be a hotly contested item at auction in this centenary year, examines potential bidders in light of the known whereabouts of five others of the Moreton Galleries exhibits. In the event Swamp achieved a strong result, double the estimate, and was acquired by a private buyer in the UK. Even at $100,000 Nolan’s early larger works seem undervalued in comparison with much later work, particularly any having Kelly figuration.



aCOMMENT on Judith White’s “Culture Heist: Art versus Money”

Posted on May 15, 2017

A review of Judith White’s book which raises the important issue of Art versus Money in the context of a new AGNSW, to be called Sydney Modern, predicted to achieve significant revenue from corporate sector use of its space as an events and promotional stage – when one view has it that an international tide is turning against the building of mega centralised infrastructure for the Arts. Much more than merely an account of a parochial power struggle within one art museum – even if this is a central theme – the book raises fundamental issues of entitlement and privilege in society.



Nolan Centenary Update III

Posted on April 27, 2017

This third update examines differing attitudes to Nolan’s centenary, contrasting an enthusiastic approach to the busy programme mapped out in Britain with a rather mundane observation in Australia where little of import has been planned. The article also looks at the underpainting, currently on display at Heide, beneath what is thought to be the first work by Nolan with a Ned Kelly helmet.



aCOMMENT on the catalogue “Transferences: Sidney Nolan in Britain”

Posted on April 16, 2017

Described as “the first exhibition of the artist’s work in a British museum since 1992,” the exhibition Transferences: Sidney Nolan in Britain opened on 18 February 2017 at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, UK. This article reviews the fine catalogue produced for the exhibition and its six well-written and informative essays. It also questions the exhibition’s claim that Nolan was “an artist whose work was rooted in Australian myth and history,” but who “after he moved to Britain in the 1950s, …. arguably came to see his subjects through British eyes.”



aCOMMENT on We who love: the Nolan slates

Posted on May 13, 2016

In a six month period from late 1941 to June 1942 Nolan painted on more than two dozen discarded roofing slates he ‘acquired’ from a building near his studio in Russell Street, Melbourne. The paintings brim with luscious motifs variously repeated in the works: hands, feet, flowers, lovers, boats, birds, and most emblematically, angels. During this same period, from mid 1941, he also painted more than a dozen canvasses incorporating the same imagery in luminous out-of-the-real-world colour. This article reviews the exhibition We who love: the Nolan slates at the University of Queensland Art Museum, which presents as a sumptuous visual experience on which the eye can feast. Rarely does one have the opportunity to see a body of little known and seldom exhibited works originating in a brief, discrete, yet significant period in the early career of an artist as famed as Nolan.



vale Mary Nolan

Posted on Apr 30, 2016



you, Lady, are the Tree: Nolan’s annunciation

Posted on Apr 19, 2016

Nolan’s 1941 painting Woman and Tree, also known as Garden of Eden, is his first reproduced work. This essay argues that neither it nor any of other closely associated works, were painted primarily with Sunday Reed in mind. Nevertheless, during the twelve month period in which these works were painted, the intellectual, sexual and financial splendours of life at Heide quickly overwhelmed his feelings for the more likely inspiration for these intensely personal, beautiful works – his first wife Elizabeth and their daughter Amelda. Woman and Tree and these other delightful works, intimate and revealing, can be seen as Nolan’s annunciation – in the literal sense of that word – and constitute a visual announcement.



aCOMMENT: on Nancy Underhill’s Sidney Nolan: a life – a terrible beauty is born

Posted on Jun 19, 2015

A review of Dr Nancy Underhill’s new Nolan biography Sidney Nolan: a life, the first to really look at his life as a whole rather than in segments bearing on a particular theme or exhibition.



Sidney Nolan’s Odyssey: his life revisited

Posted on Mar 15, 2015

A review of Brian Adams’ online Kindle e-book Sidney Nolan’s Odyssey: a life, essentially a rather obvious rewrite of Adams’ earlier Such is Life, the first Nolan biography published in 1987 five years before his death.



The Menage at Soria Moria

Posted on Nov 18, 2014

The Ménage at Soria Moria is a fictitious two act solo performance piece in which Sunday Reed explores her relationship with Sidney Nolan during the heady days at Heide during the 1940s until Nolan left in July 1947. The play also examines the less well known degeneration in their relationship over the next 35 years, and in particular imagines what might have prompted Nolan’s increasing animosity towards her.



First Class Marksman – Taking aim at provenance

Posted on Oct 16, 2014

Nolan’s 1946 painting First Class Marksman is unique on a number of counts. It is the only one of the so-called first series Kellys which was not painted at Heide; it is the only work in the first series not in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia; it is the one work in the series described by Nolan himself as being pivotal; and it holds the record price for a painting by an Australian artist. However First Class Marksman is far from unique in having a less than completely delineated provenance. Marksman’s provenance is somewhat indistinct with several listings over the last thirty years having glaring inconsistencies. This article traces the history, first of the various provenance listings, and then of the work itself, by attempting to resolve the inconsistencies and plug the gaps, or at least identify them.



Rediscovered Nolan images include a second 1947 Mrs Fraser

Posted on Jan 125, 2014

Nolan’s 1947 painting Mrs Fraser is one of his best known works. This article examines a recently discovered image of a companion work, along with images of several other hitherto unreported works from the February 1948 exhibition of twelve Fraser Island paintings at Moreton Galleries in Brisbane. There now remains just one of the dozen with no published image.



Sidney Nolan interviewed by Michael Heyward, London, 5 April 1991

Posted on Dec 8, 2013

Interviewed endlessly, Sidney Nolan became the consumate interviewee. Apparently relaxed and in his element, he deftly handled questions to reveal as much or as little of himself as he chose, or to cast on events and people alike the emphasis he wished. Listening to the tapes, reading the transcripts – it is he who sets the pace, the interviewer who follows. This trend is much less evident in a late interview with Michael Heyward in May 1991 just eighteen months before he died – perhaps he was less cautious when not being quizzed about his paintings or his past. We hear him speak of the Ern Malley poems and of his own role in the furore of their publication. The interview supports a contention that Malley was as much an alter ego for Nolan as was Kelly.



Nolan’s Covers

Posted on May 13, 2012

During his lifetime, Sidney Nolan prepared artwork used on the covers of almost 80 books – this large number reflecting the importance of literature for Nolan.  This piece does not examine the influence of literature on Nolan’s life and work in any detail, but rather gathers together in one location, illustrations of the many books for which Nolan either designed covers or which were designed using his works, commencing with his first cover in 1943 for Max Harris’ novella The Vegatative Eye.  Images of all covers are gathered under various category headings, followed by a chronological listing of titles.



Nolan’s Mrs Fraser: Reconstruction and Deconstruction

Posted on Oct 13, 2012

Sidney Nolan’s painting Mrs Fraser has long been regarded as emblematic of his animosity towards Sunday Reed. Painted on Fraser Island only months after he left Heide never to return, the work has inflamed viewers for more than 60 years.  From the island Nolan sent the Reeds photographs of some of his paintings, and these hitherto unreported images include one of an earlier version of Mrs Fraser.  Reconstruction of the original encourages a deconstruction of the belief of many commentators that Nolan painted this first iconic Mrs Fraser to denigrate Sunday Reed.  His animosity was to come later.



Sidney Nolan – an overview

Posted on Oct 11, 2011






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