Sidney Nolan Biography

Nolan is arguably Australia’s most significant and internationally acclaimed artist. Kenneth Clark refers to him as one of the major artists of the 20th century. He is well known for dramatic shifts between dark, moody themes and bright, uplifting creations. Always fresh and spontaneous, he never relied upon one style or technique but rather experimented throughout his lifetime with many different methods of application, and also devised some of his own.

He commenced formal training twice through the National Gallery of Victoria School of Art but felt compelled to educate himself instead. One of his greatest influences was the French Romantic poet Arthur Rimbaud whose image has been interpreted frequently in many of Nolan’s paintings. A love of music and literature is evident in many of his works both thematically and visually.

Several themes are captured in separate periods and series of works such as Gallipoli, The St Kilda period, Dimboola, Leda and the Swan and the Sonnets. But perhaps the most powerful and recurrent imagery is his iconic depictions of Ned Kelly, the idealistic bushranger and murderer well known in Australian folklore. This series began in 1945 and continued to surface in different techniques throughout Nolan’s lifetime.

An avid traveller, Nolan spent time in Greece and America and continued to visit Australia from his London base every year from the 1970’s.

Nolan’s work continues to inspire much academic and aesthetic thought, discussion and writing today and his images are reproduced extensively throughout the world.

1917 Born in Melbourne 1917-31 Lived in bayside St Kilda 1932 Enrolled in Prahran Technical College department of arts and crafts 1934 Attended night classes at the NGV art school. Spent much time in the Public Library reading room studying European Modernists 1938 Met art patrons John and Sunday Reed. Became a foundation member of the Contemporary Art Society. Married Elizabeth Patterson 1940 Designed décor for the Ballet Russe production of 'Icare' at the Theatre Royal, Sydney 1942-44 Conscripted into the Army, stationed in the Wimmera. Went absent without leave in July 1944 1945 Embarked on first Ned Kelly paintings and drawings 1946 Travelled through 'Kelly country' in north-eastern Victoria and painted his well known series of Ned Kelly paintings, now in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 1947 Travelled to Queensland, including Fraser Island, Bundaberg, Cairns, Port Douglas and Cape York 1948 Married Cynthia Reed. Travelled in Central, far north and Western Australia 1950-51 Travelled in Central Australia, and overseas for the first time to England, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy 1952 Commissioned by the Brisbane Courier Mail to make drawings of devastated outback drought lands, toured desert areas 1953 Visited remote inland Australia and the Birdsville Track. Returned to Europe where he based his career from then on 1956 Spent some months on Hydra, Greece. Visited Gallipoli peninsula 1957 Studied engraving and lithography at 'Atelier 1' in Paris 1958 Awarded a two year Commonwealth Fund Harkness Fellowship to 'record the American scene'. Travelled throughout the USA, returning to London in 1960 1961-62 Travelled to Egypt and Africa 1964 Arrived in Sydney to join a US Navy expedition to Antarctica with writer Alan Moorehead 1965 Awarded Creative Arts Fellowship, Australian National University, Canberra. Travelled to Queensland, New Guinea, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, China. Moved to New York 1971 Travelled to Australia for the Adelaide Festival, visited Alice Springs and the Olgas 1972-75 Travelled extensively 1976 Wife Cynthia Nolan died 1977 Announced gift of 252 'Gallipoli' paintings to the nation through the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Sunday Reed presented her 25 'Ned Kelly' paintings of 1946-47 to the National Gallery of Australia 1978 Married Mary Boyd in London 1982 'Paradise Garden' series I of 136 frames installed in the Concert Hall stalls foyer of the Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne 1983 Sir Sidney and Lady Nolan purchased 'The Rodd' on the Welsh border of Herefordshire 1984 Visited Australia and Ireland 1985 Elected Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York. Acquired the five hundred acres of farmland surrounding 'The Rodd' and establishes the Sidney Nolan Trust. Also purchased 'Earie Park' jointly with Arthur Boyd, a property with 14km of river frontage on the Shoalhaven in NSW 1986 Announced his gift of approximately 50 paintings to the people of Ireland 1989 Presented 'Earie Park' property to the Federal Government of Australia 1991 Elected to the Royal Academy, London 1992 Died in London