Central Australia

Sidney Nolan1949

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria

Like a cubist painting or collage, Nolan’s landscapes create their own reality, with constantly shifting patterns in which images, predominantly mountain ranges, appear and disappear. Inland Australia seen from the air provided Nolan with an entirely new special challenge. Travelling at an altitude of 10,000 feet, Nolan thought of both Paul Klee and Indigenous Australian artists in relation to the abstracted landscape that appeared as random patterns upon the earth’s surface.

During his lifetime, Nolan established an enviable reputation both in Australia and abroad that was enhanced by a proliferation of exhibitions in major cities throughout the world. In 1946–7 he completed his legendary Ned Kelly series, and from 1949–1953 a series of works on the subject of inland Australia, incorporating imagery of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition, religion and drought.

Text by Geoffrey Smith from Sidney Nolan: Desert & Drought, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p.20-21

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  • Title: Central Australia
  • Creator: Sidney Nolan
  • Date Created: 1949
  • Physical Dimensions: w1219 x h921 cm (Unframed)
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1950, © National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: oil and enamel paint on composition board
  • Provenance: Purchased on the advice of Lloyd Rees, Sydney Advisor, for the National Gallery of Victoria, 1950.
  • Biography: Sidney Nolan is one of Australia’s most recognised artists. He was born in Carlton, Victoria in 1917 and in 1932 enrolled at Prahran Technical College. Nolan attended the National Gallery School very briefly in 1934 and again in 1936. He was a foundation member of the Contemporary Art Society and helped produce the radical journal Angry Penguins. For the next ten years he received encouragement and support from John and Sunday Reed, patrons whose home, Heide, became a focus for a close knit, avant-garde group. During 1945 Nolan commenced his first Ned Kelly series. In 1947 he visited Far North Queensland, followed by Central and Northern Australia. From 1953, based in London, he travelled extensively. Successive exhibitions with major commercial galleries enhanced his reputation in London and New York; a second Kelly series was painted in 1954–57, followed by Burke and Wills, the Antarctic and Gallipoli. He had his first Australian retrospective in 1967. Nolan was extraordinarily prolific with an unusual capacity for creating memorable images, changing, evolving, and returning to earlier subject matter in new permutations. He was internationally honoured, knighted in 1981, and awarded the Order of Merit in 1983. The National Gallery of Victoria organised the Nolan touring retrospective, 1987 and showed his desert and drought paintings of the 1940s and 1950s in 2003. Sidney Nolan died in London in 1992.