During his late youth Sidney Nolan developed a keen interest in literature and especially in poetry, which the artist also composed and often inscribed into his works of art. The nineteenth century French poet, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), a talented and bohemian young writer, had an enduring influence on Nolan who named several works of art after the poet. During his short, tumultuous life, Rimbaud challenged literary and social conventions, and his poetic musings, which are richly textured and imbued with emotion and symbolism, have inspired numerous writers, musicians and artists. According to Nolan, ‘Reading Rimbaud one got art’ (Agnews, 1997).
The French Post-Impressionist painter, Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), although very different in temperament to the more rebellious Rimbaud, also made a strong impression on Nolan. The artist first saw Cézanne’s paintings in Melbourne in 1939 in the Herald Exhibition of British and European Contemporary Art. Cézanne’s treatment of pictorial space, and particularly the ways he flattened and broke up the picture plane with patches of colour to create multiple viewpoints had a significant influence on Nolan. In this Rimbaud/Cézanne series, created in 1978, Nolan finds inspiration in Cézanne’s drawings that were reproduced in The Drawings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, by Adrien Chappuis, published in 1973.
In this collection of drawings Nolan brings together these two unlikely French counter-parts, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Cézanne, in a dialogue. Viewed as a collection these sketches of skulls, roses and guns and floating and disembodied figures appear arbitrary and child-like. Nolan is not concerned with narrative or form but rather with the artistic process and in capturing the creative spirit of his two artistic muses.