Media office

Archives 2010
Archives 2009
Archives 2008
Archives 2007
Archives 2006
Archives 2005
Archives 2004
Archives 2003
Archives 2002
Archives 2001
Archives 2000

Sidney Nolan: a new retrospective, 2 November 2007 - 3 February 2008, Art Gallery of NSW 

Ned Kelly

‘Sidney Nolan is the best known, the most familiar, name in the history of modern Australian art; indeed his name is synonymous with Australia. And yet he remains something of an enigma.’

- Edmund Capon, director Art Gallery of New South Wales 2007

This is the first major retrospective of Sidney Nolan’s paintings since his death in 1992. It presents an opportunity to unravel something of the artist’s enigma and understand his essential achievement across an entire career.

The breathtaking speed of execution and prolific output of Nolan – estimated to be many thousands of paintings – has always proven a dilemma for the many retrospectives during his lifetime, the last being organised by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1987 for the artist’s 70th birthday.

The exhibition features many of Nolan’s finest masterpieces; some 120 paintings gathered from public and private collections in Australia, London, the United States and France. Many have rarely been seen in public, thus contributing to a fresh experience for a younger generation, and perhaps rediscovery for those who feel they are already familiar with the artist.

Hare in trap

‘Painting was the outer skin of Nolan’s thought process, formed with an often disconcerting momentum which revealed flashes of sheer genius.  Inventiveness, lyricism and a strong sense of the theatrical; these are the keys to this survey, concentrating on the peaks of excellence.’

-Barry Pearce, curator of the exhibition, 2007

The paintings are displayed in strict chronology, underlining the evolution of Nolan’s vision from its genesis in Melbourne during the late 1930s to the UK half a century later. Each critical phase is represented, from the St Kilda and Wimmera themes, through the first Ned Kelly series, Central and Northern Australian landscapes and explorer subjects, African, Antarctic and European paintings, to Chinese and Australian-inspired abstractions.

Emphasis is given to the late, spray-painted, Chinese landscapes and abstractions, which in some ways are an echo of how Nolan began in the highly charged years of his adolescence. For, beneath the originality of his approach to landscape, nature and history themes over more than 50 years, there was an enduring passion for the purely formal possibilities of painting.

Luna Park

‘... my initial idea as a boy was that abstract painting was the way I wanted to express myself... But with things like Ned Kelly... I saw an opportunity to use my knowledge of abstraction in that cause... The Kelly paintings, really, are as abstract as they are anecdotal.’

- Sidney Nolan

Driven forward at velocity by a powerful instinct, Nolan was aware of the bewilderment felt by critics at his diversity of styles and subject.

It helps to remember in this regard the most consistent influences which inspired him constantly to challenge conventional boundaries and go beyond them: the poets Rimbaud, Blake and Rilke.

His faith in their ideas fed his impulse to travel to all corners of the planet with an insatiable curiosity to discover the extent of the unknown that his painting might encompass.

Some of Nolan’s most famous paintings are included, such as Boy and the moon 1939-40, the iconic Kelly masterpiece First class marksman 1946, Pretty polly mine 1948, Burke and Wills leaving Melbourne 1950, The temptation of St Anthony 1952 and Rimbaud at Harar 1963.

The epicentre of the retrospective however, is the historic conjoining in two semi-circles – echoing Monet’s famous waterlilies murals in Paris – of the multi-panel paintings Riverbend I 1964-65 and Riverbend II 1965-66, where we may become immersed in Nolan’s dreamlike return to the inner landscape of his childhood, made indelible long before he gained a reputation as one of Australia’s greatest artists. Riverbend I and II evoke the place where the artist’s grandfather struggled on the land, and as a policeman pursued the Kelly gang, embedding at once in Nolan’s psyche the refrain of a violent past and a deep love of the Australian bush.

Chinese landscape

'Although this discovery of truth about Australia is an important element in his work, I think it can be overstated. For Nolan is not at all a factual artist. He is, on the contrary, a man of active and disquieting imagination, and one of the fascinating things about his work is its unpredictability.'

- Kenneth Clark, 1961

A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition. Published by Beagle Press, the catalogue includes a major essay by the curator Barry Pearce and contributions by Edmund Capon, Frances Lindsay and Lou Klepac, with Nolan’s own eloquent words woven throughout.

The Principal Sponsor of this exhibition is Ernst & Young.

‘Ernst & Young is proud to be partnering with the Gallery on the Sidney Nolan retrospective. This exhibition reflects our commitment to the arts, both in Australia and around the world, and to the communities in which we serve. The Art Gallery of New South Wales is to be congratulated on this important and valuable exhibition.’ - James Millar, CEO Australia




Daily guided tours 12pm and 2pm, Wednesdays 7.15pm
Short film - Nolan in his own words Free daily screenings
Audio tour $6, $5 members/conc.


Dreamers: Australian Painters and the Poetic Imagination
From 16 September for six weeks - Sundays 10.30am - 1pm
The Art Gallery Society of New South Wales is host an exciting new lecture series in the lead-up to the Sidney Nolan retrospective. Dreamers: Australian Painters and the Poetic Imagination draws together a diverse group of speakers – academics and curators, painters, poets and composers – to reveal the poetic sources and aspirations which have nourished individual creators in Australia. Beginning and ending with talks and performances devoted to the remarkable imagination of Sidney Nolan, each week brings a particular focus to the work of a different artist central to the rich and varied narrative landscape of modern Australian painting. Each session commences with a keynote lecture and ,after a morning coffee break, the session resumes with a diverse program of panel discussions, literary readings and musical recordings.
Full program and booking details


Saturday 3 November 10am - 3pm
Considers such themes as Nolan's poetic and philosophical  sources, his time at Heide in the company of the Reeds, and his relations with the wider Australian avant-garde. This symposium provides a fascinating context for the deeper understanding of this remarkable exhibition.
Speakers: Edmund Capon, director, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Barry Pearce, head curator of Australian art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Dr Janine Bourke, art historian, Dr Richard Haese, senior lecturer in art history, La Trobe University.
Cost $60 / $50 members, includes lunch and exhibition entry
Bookings: Art Gallery Society of New South Wales
tel (02) 9225 1878 or email


Every Wednesday the Gallery and the Sidney Nolan exhibition are open until 9pm

Exhibition talks 5.30pm
7 Nov. Barry Pearce
14 Nov. Lou Klepac
21 Nov. Deborah Edwards
28 Nov. Natalie Wilson
5 Dec. DiVerse poetry reading
12 Dec. DiVerse poetry reading

Celebrity talks 6.30pm
7 Nov. Warren Fahey, folklore collector, author, broadcaster and performer. Australian bush songs and rare bushranger ballads
14 Nov. Libbi Gorr, comedian, broadcaster and TV presenter. Nolan, Ned and Naughty
21 Nov. Paul Kelly via video presentation. Thoughts on Nolan and new film clip
28 Nov. Stuart Purves, director Australian Galleries. Memories of an art dealer
5 Dec. Paul McDermott and Flacco,stars of ABC TV’s The Sideshow. Flacco discusses Much ado about Nolan and Paul responds with Nolan: beyond the wordplay and simplistic puns
12 Dec. Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir singing Australian carols and folksongs
19 Dec. Kim Cunio & Heather Lee perform the music of Hildegard von Bingen
2 Jan. Marty Murphy, writer and comedian. Is that a bucket on your head?
9 Jan. Patricia Lovell with cinematographer John Seale. Australian landscape in film
16 Jan. David Marr, author and journalist. Walking the Art Gallery of New South Wales with Sid Nolan and Patrick White
23 Jan. Wendy Whiteley Australian artists abroad and other stories, including meeting Sidney Nolan
30 Jan. Moffatt Oxenbould, former artistic director of Opera Australia. Nolan in the Opera House

Lectures 7.30pm
Centenary Auditorium. Learn about the historical context and personal
history of Sidney Nolan.
14 Nov. Sheona WhiteAngry Feet
21 Nov. Ursula PrunsterThe Ern Malley affair
28 Nov. Nancy UnderhillNolan and the British Establishment
5 Dec. Jethro LyneNolan and the theology of painting


Westerns: Outlaws and Outsiders
Wednesdays 2pm & 7.15pm, Sundays 2pm (plus additional screenings)
The myth-haunted, arid landscapes of Sidney Nolan have parallels in the Western film genre. With stories that centre on the life of semi-nomadic wanderers, outlaws and outsiders, Westerns often depict the discordance of the land, people, history and mythology. This series presents a rare opportunity to view Westerns as they were intended to be seen – on the big screen. Highlights include High noon (dir: Fred Zinnemann 1952), A Fistful of Dollars (dir: Sergio Leone 1964) and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Dir: Tommy Lee Jones 2005).

Film program details


Children’s Trail (also available online)
An activity trail through the exhibition for children aged 6–12 years.
Free with exhibition entry.

Australian Folklore Performance
14–18 Jan, 1.30pm
Using stories and music Gerard Cafe brings Australian legends and heroes to life in this interactive performance.

Children’s Holiday Workshops
7–18 January
Painting and Mixed Media workshops.
For bookings and information:
(02) 9225 1740 or

K-12 program information. 

Sidney Nolan touring dates
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
2 November 2007 - 3 February 2008

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
22 February - 18 May 2008

Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
6 June - 31 August 2008


Ernst & Young: Quality in everything we do
President's Council Qantas Delta

On view:2 November 2007 to 3 February 2008
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road
The Domain, Sydney
Telephone:(02) 9225 1744 or recorded information (02) 9225 1790
Hours:10am to 5pm 7 days a week
Art After Hours every Wednesday until 9pm
Admission:Adult $12
Concession $9
Family $33
Media Information and Interviews:Claire Martin
+61 (0)2 9225 1734 or
mobile + 61 (0)414 437 588

From top: Ned Kelly 1946, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, gift of Sunday Reed 1977 © National Gallery of Australia Hare in trap 1946, Private Collection; Luna Park 1941, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Purchased with funds provided by the Nelson Meers Foundation 2003; Chinese mountain landscape with three boats c.1982, Private Collection
All works excluding Ned Kelly 1946 © The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust