Ayer's Rock 1951 signed and dated 'Nolan / 51' lower left oil and enamel on board 51 x 61cm (20 1/16 x 24in).
PROVENANCE: Gift of the artist Mrs D. I. Nolan Private Collection, Victoria Gould Galleries, Melbourne Corporate Collection, Melbourne
EXHIBITED: Probably, Sidney Nolan: an exhibition of paintings at the home of Dr and Mrs Keith Anderson 'Yamba', Melbourne, 3 October 1965, no. 11 Exhibition of Paintings by Sidney Nolan, City of Shepparton Art Gallery, Victoria, February 1966, no. 11 Exhibition of Paintings by Sidney Nolan, City of Shepparton Art Gallery, Victoria, 1967, no. 11 Allsorts 07, Gould Galleries, Melbourne, 15 November - 15 December 2007, no. 7, (illus).
Ayers Rock was the highlight of Nolan's epic 1949 journey through central Australia which became the inspiration for many of his best landscape paintings. The artist, along with Cynthia and Jinx Nolan set off in June of that year and took aerial flights across the northern parts of South Australia and into the Northern Territory. They based themselves out of Alice Springs and took many aerial journeys over the surrounding landscape, sketching and drawing the native flora and fauna.
On 4 July, they flew out to and around Ayers Rock which was to be one of their most memorable flights. "It is all that one has imagined it, huge, a beautiful colour and set in absolute isolation. It is in the midst of a tremendous plain of red sand. The rock itself cinnamon pink over every inch of its 2000' height. In one sense it resembles an enormous whale placed on the sand. However it resembles nothing. More than anything else it is so itself and will remain so."1
Upon his return to Sydney, Nolan struggled with transforming his experiences into artworks. He eventually overcame this by realising he was not expressing the gentleness and age of the landscape. "Now that one knows [the landscape] for an old, fragile and transparent land that is the way the paintings must tend and so far my own paintings have not been notable for any of these qualities."2 Once he realised this, his regained his focus and began producing beautiful, richly coloured works of the central Australian landscape. He found his line drawings, sketches and his own photographs to be useful source material and these preparatory works and photographs have become collectable in their own right.
Nolan made a decision to spread the production of his central Australian landscape paintings over four years. Ayers Rock, painted in 1951 was completed from memory, sketches and photographs from his outback journey. He attempted to accurately depict the specific geography, referring to his source notes for correct lines, textures and colours. Nolan would use fast-drying enamel paints on masonite which allowed him to work quickly. He would often scrape away paint in order to have the white undercoating show through giving a transparent quality to his landscapes. Nolan found that using enamel paint helped achieve the desired effect of light on the landscape, "I found out that in order to reproduce this light, this very intense bright light which was flooding over everything... Ripolin on masonite seemed to bring about this translucent sky and it set up the effect I wanted."3
Ayers Rock 1951, depicts the pinnacle of the Nolans' epic journey through the Australian interior, it was an immensely inspirational voyage for the artist both personally and artistically. The experience brought to light innumerable opportunities for the artist the central Australian landscape provided Nolan with an entirely new oeuvre which forms a major part of his career.
1 Sidney Nolan, diary notes, Tennant Creek, 5 July 1949, Jinx Nolan papers, quoted in Geoffrey Smith, Sidney Nolan; Desert and Drought, National Gallery of Victoria, 2003, p. 19 2 Sidney Nolan, diary notes, Sydney, 24 September 1949, Jinx Nolan Papers, , quoted in Geoffrey Smith, Sidney Nolan; Desert and Drought, National Gallery of Victoria, 2003, p. 20 3 Colin MacInnes and Sidney Nolan, interview, London, 4 July 1957, quoted in Geoffrey Smith, Sidney Nolan; Desert and Drought, National Gallery of Victoria, 2003, p. 22