Sidney Nolan (1917–1992)

Nolan remains one of Australia’s most acclaimed and internationally recognised artists. Many events and people helped shape his artistic journey, but none more than two independently wealthy art patrons, John and Sunday Reed. Sunday was particularly instrumental in encouraging Nolan to move away from abstract painting and collage towards a more figurative art. During his Second World War military service in the western district of Victoria, Nolan found the job of loading and unloading stores and provisions to be mundane and repetitive. He applied to be an official war artist, but was turned down because his works were considered too modern. Dejected and bored, and unable to obtain a discharge, Nolan took off for Melbourne, and was duly declared “illegally absent”. Up until the end of the war, he divided his time between his suburban studio and the Reeds’ Heidelberg property. In 1953, Nolan moved with his family to Britain. He travelled a great deal, and painted even more. An extended holiday on the island of Hydra brought him into contact with two famous Australians – the novelist George Johnston and the historian and writer Alan Moorehead – who inspired him to embark on his Gallipoli series. For his contributions to art, Nolan received a knighthood in 1981 and the Order of Merit in 1983; in 1988 he was made Companion of the Order of Australia. Throughout his long, illustrious career, Nolan worked prolifically in a variety of media on themes drawn from Australian history, myths and legends. He revived elements and iconography from earlier works, but also maintained a spontaneous and vigorous style by continuing to explore new materials and painting techniques.