Meeting in Excited Reverie: Mirka Mora meets Sidney Nolan

Posted by on Apr 6, 2017 in Tributes | 0 comments

It is hoped that Imagining in Excited Reverie, this centenary tribute to Sidney Nolan, will introduce him to a new generation of art lovers. Not only that, perhaps it will also allow those who already know of him, but little about him, to learn more of the man regarded by many as the preeminent Australian painter of the 20th century.

It is appropriate then that this first centenary tribute should be from one who knew of Nolan for some 30 years before actually meeting him. Indeed, as a close friend of John and Sunday Reed, one imagines Mirka Mora knew of Nolan more so than most.

Artist and restaurateur, Parisian-born Mirka arrived in Melbourne in 1951, a year after Nolan departed Australia for England. She and gallerist husband Georges were in the vanguard of a band of post-war European émigrés who transformed Melbourne’s avant-garde and Bohemia during the 1950s and 60s.

She would not meet Nolan until 1978. Almost 40 years later she recalled that meeting in an interview with her son Philippe who directed the 2014 film Absolutely Modern (read review here), from which the following still, clip and transcript are taken with thanks and to Philippe for his assistance and permission.




VIEW FILM CLIP as Mirka Mora recalls meeting Sidney Nolan in 1978



His hand was a novel

…. his hand in my hand said everything. His hand was a novel




It was 1978. I think Nolan must have had a big exhibition or a big do at the National Gallery, and it was very …. there was so many people, lots of people, and at a certain time I had enough of all the people and I saw a little door and by chance it opened … tiny little door, and the door opened into a vey large empty room, empty gallery, not a painting on the wall, and I was there looking and collecting myself, and suddenly the door opened and a very handsome man came in.

It was, I recognised him straight away, it was Sidney Nolan you know. And he said to me “I know who you are” and I said “I know who you are too”. Then he said “I love your work” …. no, he said “I know your work”. I was very honoured and we talked a little bit, I don’t know about what, and I shook my hand with him, and he took my hand and it was the most seductive handshake I’ve ever had in my life … and I’ve had a lot of hand shake.

And then he went back to the big commotion of people in the other room, and I collected myself. I don’t know what I did …. I stayed a bit longer in the room alone because it had been such a pleasure ….


[INTERVIEWER: So it’s true then what they said about Nolan, that he had incredible charisma.]


Enormous! I’ve never seen something like that. But not only in his presence, but his hand … his hand …. his hand in my hand said everything. His hand was a novel, you know … a grand novel


[INTERVIEWER: What was his hand like? Was it rough?]


No, very like silk, and fine. It was very fine.


[INTERVIEWER: Yes, Very Interesting …. because he was a painter, and usually their hands are rough, like sandpaper.]


Yes. His hand was like silk and very smooth like … you know …. a very seductive hand … very artistic hand, to make a pun.





MIRKA MORA was born in Paris in 1928. A survivor of the Holocaust, she arrived in Australia in 1951 with her husband Georges (1913-1992) who had participated in the Spanish Civil War and joined the Foreign Legion and French Resistance during World War II. She an artist and he an impresario, their cafes and galleries (Mirka, Tolarno and Balzac), and their circle, transformed Melbourne’s Bohemia during the 1950s and 60s. She remains a much-loved and well-known Melbourne painter and personality, and in 2008 was made a Fellow of Heide Museum of Modern Art. The 2016 film Monsieur Mayonnaise, directed by Trevor Graham, features Mirka and stars her son Philippe searching for his parents’ story.




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