Sidney Nolan’s Burke & Wills series

The late, great, Sir Sidney Nolan, one of Australia’s most prominent artists, marks several anniversaries in 2017.  This year sees both the centenary year of the artist’s birth and the 25th anniversary of his death.  To celebrate the life of the internationally acclaimed artist, immerse yourself in Nolan’s Australia, through the Nolan’s Burke & Wills series.

 

Burke & Wills

Nolan’s inspiration came from a fateful expedition in 1860, led by Irish explorers Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills.  Burke and Wills attempted to cross Australia from south to north and died in June 1861, from what appeared to be vitamin deficiencies.  After their deaths, several relief expeditions were sent out, which contributed to new geographical findings. All, bar one lost their lives during the expedition.

 

The story of Burke and Wills has become embedded in Australia’s history.  During one of his trips to Central Australia, Nolan wrote in his diary:

‘Read The Burke & Wills Expedition. They are never far from mind when flying over the desert country.’  

Nolan began this first part of the series between 1948-1950.

 

BAL18282 Burke and Wills' Expedition 'Gray Sick', 1949 (ripolin enamel and oil on hardboard) by Nolan, Sidney (1917-92); 92x120 cm; Roy Miles Fine Paintings; Australian, in copyright PLEASE NOTE: Bridgeman Images represents the copyright holder of this image and can arrange clearance.
Burke and Wills’ Expedition ‘Gray Sick’, 1949 (ripolin enamel and oil on hardboard) by Sidney Nolan, (1917-92); Roy Miles Fine Paintings

For these paintings, Nolan had drawn upon his first trip to the Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australian outback. He later wrote about these works:

‘There seem to be three elements in the paintings: the actuality of the landscape, which for Australians is intensified to the point of a dream; the strange conjunction of a man on a camel, from which he surveys the landscape as if he is walking on giant stilts; and always the birds, which make everything so vivid’.

Burke at Cooper's Creek, 1950 (oil & enamel paint on composition board), Sidney Nolan (1917-92) / National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / Gift of American Friends of the National Gallery of Australia, Inc., New York, NY, USA, made possible with the generous support of Mr and Mrs Benno Schmidt of New York and Esperance, Western Australia, 1987
Burke at Cooper’s Creek, 1950 (oil & enamel paint on composition board), Sidney Nolan (1917-92) / National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / Gift of American Friends of the National Gallery of Australia, Inc., New York, NY, USA, made possible with the generous support of Mr and Mrs Benno Schmidt of New York and Esperance, Western Australia, 1987

In his second series of Burke and Wills, painted between 1961-1962, Nolan focused less on the history and more on the universality of emotion, their vulnerability.

 Burke and Wills Expedition, 1962 (enamel & oil board), Sidney Nolan (1917-92) / Private Collection / Photo © Agnew's, London
Burke and Wills Expedition, 1962 (enamel & oil board), Sidney Nolan (1917-92) / Photo © Agnew’s, London

In 1967, he expressed his admiration for the men:

‘I doubt that I will ever forget my emotions when first flying over Central Australia, and realizing how much we painters and poets owe to our predecessors the explorers, with their frail bodies and superb will-power.’

Burke and Wills Expedition V, 1975 (screenprint), Sidney Nolan (1917-92) / Private Collection / Marlborough Graphics, London
Burke and Wills Expedition V, 1975 (screenprint), Sidney Nolan (1917-92) / Private Collection / Marlborough Graphics, London

Of course, Nolan’s use of the Australian landscape was not exclusive to the Burke and Wills series.  With 27 pictures of an outlawed folk hero, Australia’s equivalent of Robin Hood, The Ned Kelly series proved Nolan’s biggest success.  Read more about Nolan’s Ned Kelly series.

Ned Kelly, 1946 (enamel on composition board), Sidney Nolan (1917-92) / National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / Gift of Sunday Reed 1977
Ned Kelly, 1946 (enamel on composition board), Sidney Nolan (1917-92) / National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / Gift of Sunday Reed 1977

Find out more

We represent the Sidney Nolan Trust for copyright administration and image licensing through Bridgeman Copyright, our service for artists and estates.

See more Sidney Nolan images in the Bridgeman archive.

All images in this article are sourced from www.bridgemanimages.com. Contact the Bridgeman sales team (uksales@bridgemanimages.com) for more information regarding licensing, reproduction and copyright issues.

 

 

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