Sidney Nolan

Ned Kelly series of paintings by Sidney Nolan
2 November 2012 – 27 January 2013

Sidney Nolan
An exhibition of the famous Ned Kelly series of paintings by the celebrated Australian artist Sidney Nolan opens to the public in the New Galleries at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham, Dublin, on Friday 2 November 2012. The 26 paintings, which are being loaned by the National Gallery of Australia, take the form of stylised depictions of the exploits of the notorious bushranger Ned Kelly, the son of an Irish convict, and his gang in the Australian outback in the late 1870s and early 1880s. These include the shooting of police constables at Stringybark Creek, the siege of Glenrowan and the trial at which Kelly was sentenced to hang. The exhibition is presented by Etihad Airways and is supported by the Australian Embassy Ireland and the Irish Independent.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest series of Australian painting of the 20th-century, Nolan’s starkly simplified depiction of Kelly in his homemade armour has become an iconic Australian image. His grandfather had been a police sergeant in the party pursuing Ned Kelly at Beechworth in Victoria in the 1870s and he grew up on boyhood tales of Kelly. However, Nolan did not intend the series to be a literal portrayal of events. Rather, the various episodes became the setting for the artist’s meditations upon universal themes of injustice, love and betrayal. Above all, the Kelly saga was also a way for Nolan to paint the Australian landscape in new ways, with the story giving meaning to its setting. The works were originally held at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, where Nolan had painted 26 of the 27 when it was the home of his close friends John and Sunday Reed. The 26 paintings were gifted to the National Gallery of Australia in 1977.

Describing the place of the series in the Australian consciousness, Deborah Hart, Senior Curator at National Gallery of Australia says: “In the Ned Kelly series Nolan gave us a fresh and highly distinctive way of thinking about place and the stories that inform the fabric of our nation. His works transport the viewer on a journey with humour, irony and pathos, and great artistic bravura.” Commenting on the series IMMA’s Head of Exhibitions, Rachael Thomas, says: “This exhibition, being presented by Etihad Airways and organised in collaboration with the National Gallery of Australia, reveals and celebrates both the artistry that exists in the myth of Ned Kelly and his powerful story and the remarkable manner in which this is brought to life in Sidney Nolan’s paintings.”

James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “Etihad Airways is delighted to present the Sidney Nolan, Ned Kelly Series in Dublin. The paintings and stories of Ned Kelly are renowned throughout the art world and we were thrilled to carry the art work and team members from the National Gallery in Canberra through to Dublin for the exhibition. Etihad Airways has established tremendous sporting and cultural ties in Ireland and Australia and our close partnership with the Sidney Nolan exhibition further illustrates the level of commitment we have to supporting the arts in both countries.”

Of Irish descent, Sidney Nolan was born in 1917 in Melbourne where he attended the National Gallery of Victoria School of Art. He was conscripted into the army in 1942 and began to paint his immediate surroundings in the Australian outback. From 1953, Nolan began travelling extensively from his base in London and painted many remarkable series of works inspired by his travels to Europe, Africa, China and Antarctica. Nolan made several visits to Ireland, where he painted his Wild Geese series, inspired by the many Irish soldiers who fled the country after the failed Jacobite wars of the 1690s, representing them as well-known latter day exiles and wanderers such as James Joyce and Ernest Shackleton. Six of the series were donated to the IMMA Collection on the foundation of the Museum in 1991, and a further work, Gallipoli, 1955, was donated the following year. The Wild Geese series are included in the exhibition.

Major retrospective exhibitions of Sidney Nolan’s work include the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1957; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, travelling to Sydney, Perth and Adelaide, 1987; and more recently at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007. Nolan’s work is widely represented by the National Gallery of Australia; The Tate, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Pittsburgh Museum of Art, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Sidney Nolan was knighted in 1981 and was awarded the Order of Merit in 1983. He died in London in 1992.