Central Australian landscape

Born Melbourne, Australia 1917, arrived England 1953, died London 1992

Sidney Nolan is one of Australia’s most celebrated painters and is best known for his painting series which were inspired by Australian landscapes, legends and history.

The bush and the desert played a significant role in Nolan’s personal and artistic life. River forms part of Nolan’s famous Ned Kelly series which he began in 1946 and returned to several times throughout his career. It depicts Kelly naked up a tree and a woman leading a horse emerging from a swamp. Of this work Elwyn Lyn wrote that it represents Kelly as ‘the most wispy, wraith-like, vulnerable creature Nolan has painted… The gum trees, that once had a homely presence, are mere ghosts in the background.’1

Interpretations of this work have included themes of the primordial connection between man and bush, and a somewhat humorous slant on another recurring theme of Nolan’s, that of the relationship between the hunter and the hunted.

Retrospectives of his work have been held in London at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1957), at the National Gallery of Victoria and touring (1987–88), and the Art Gallery of New South Wales (2008). His work has also been represented in major survey exhibitions of Australian art. For his services to art Nolan was knighted in 1981. His work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, all state galleries, the Australian War Memorial, the National Portrait Gallery, many regional and university galleries, the Tate Gallery, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

1 E. Lynn, Sidney Nolan, Myth and Imagery, Macmillan, London, 1967, pp. 46–48.