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Sidney Nolan

Ned Kelly

The National Gallery of Australia

This painting of Ned Kelly is probably the most iconic image in Australian art. I never liked it particularly until I saw it in the Gallery. We are all so familiar with it. The reproductions have always seemed rather bare and stark to me. But “in the flesh” it is vibrant and powerful.

The Canberra Museum

My friend Judy Harders and I visited the Canberra Museum where this superb Ned Kelly series is on permanent display. I came out quite exhilarated. I think these paintings are better than the more famous ones in the National Gallery.

This one of my favourites. The policeman is upside-down with his head stuck down a wombat hole.  Notice the little wombat between him and his rifle. See also the little lizard on his other side, and the magpie perched on top of his rifle. The patch of vegetation in the foreground on the left side of the picture is beautifully coloured and textured, although this cannot be seen to full effect in this image. Here is some detail of it (below). You can just see the lizard’s head on the right of the picture.

The Riverbend series

Sidney Noland’s Riverbend series was being exhibited at the Drill Hall Gallery in Canberra when I was there. It is a series of nine large paintings of the magnificent river red gums on banks of the Murray River. They are displayed in a slight arc, and they form a wide panorama.

You can stand back and take in the broad sweep of the scene. The textured greens and greys of the trees dominate the large scale. However, if you move in and look closely at the detail, there is more.

The Riverbend series is quite different from the other Ned Kelly paintings, but Ned and the troopers do make an appearance. Little figures, like the trooper on horseback and a helmeted Ned, emerge from the undergrowth. (See detail, below).

Leave a comment


  1. Fair enough,.I was being a touch facetious.
    But I stay with my theme.
    Over the (many) years I have seen a lot of Nolans and I do think a lot of his later work was forgettable. I bumped into a Burke and Wills the other day somewhere and just thought, dull Sid dull.
    But I called at Heide in Melbourne the other year and saw some early ones I’d missed and was impressed.
    And I do think he he over-egged the Kelly thing.
    Meanwhile I do understand photography and esp. “close ups of vegetation”. And rocks, and nature. Been there in spades.
    What started me on Riverbend today was hearing Ken Done saying it was his “favourite painting”?! Well, the series.
    But don’t get me started on KD, who has never woken up from a self-inflicted neverending Fauvist nightmare.
    I prefer artists who explore, move about, try different approaches, ideas.
    Like Felix Valloton!

    • You’re not mentioning Nolan and Ken Done in the same breath?! Ken Done of the pretty pinks and blues? I don’t even think it’s art. Or maybe not serious art, just pretty colours and bland style that lend themselves to merchandising.i was very influenced by the modern Americans in my teens. Gottlieb, Rothko, Pollock especially.

  2. Sir Sid!? Oh dear. „35,000 paintings“ I read somewhere, that’s 500 year for 70 years? And it shows.
    Yes he painted some Fine Works, but is it 1.12% of the total? Or 0.34%??
    There was an awful lot of just banging them out, like Burke and Wills. The Antarctics. The Chinese hills?
    And I’m not sure the Riverbend series fits the FW category. Just a bunch of bloody trees, a big bunch, oh and pop in a couple of Ned motifs in case he hasn’t flogged that idea within an inch of madness.
    So I have to say, broadly speaking, he’s overrated.
    BUT I do love the copper in the rodent hole. And Moon Boy, and a bunch of his other early works.
    Yes early on he was on fire and most of his best work dates from then.

    • Thanks for your comments. What is life without freedom? Celebrate diversity! I have to disagree wuth you. Prolific does not necessarily mean poor quality. Of course there were a lot of minor works, quick sketches and so on, but Nolan was a prolific producer of great works as well, in my opinion. I found the Riverbend panels very moving. I have been on a houseboat on the Murray and the big river red gums are majestic. I photograohed them endlessly. So not just “a bunch of trees”. On the other hand, a take a lot of photos of close up vegetation. I find the colours and the textures wonderful. But as my mother says, “how come you are alwats taking pictures of dead leaves?” Maybe that’s why you need to have a few troopers peeping out from the undergrowth. As I might have saud, I saw the National Gallery exhibition in passing just after I has come out of the Renaissance exhibition. Now if you want to talk about motifs done to within an inch of madness, let’s just say I was totally sick of fat babies. Going from thst to Sid was inspirational.


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