Boats, St Kilda c.1945 inscribed 'N' lower right ripolin enamel and sand on composition board 62.2 x 75.2cm (24 1/2 x 29 5/8in).
PROVENANCE Sir James O Fairfax, Sydney Australian Paintings, Christies, Sydney, 22 October 1975, lot 429 Private collection Australian Paintings, Christies, Melbourne, 28 April 1976, lot 515 Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne Private collection, Melbourne
EXHIBITED Spring Exhibition 1977, Recent Acquisitions, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 19 October - 3 November 1977, no. 74 (illus.) Sidney Nolan, Landscapes & Legends, a retrospective exhibition: 1937 - 1987, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 3 June - 26 July 1987, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 11 August - 27 September 1987, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 21 October - 29 November 1987, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 15 December 1987 - 31 January 1988 (illus.) Sidney Nolan, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2 November 2007 - 3 February 2008, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 22 February - 18 May 2008, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 6 June - 31 August 2008, no. 20 (illus.)
LITERATURE James Gleeson, 'The art collectors 3: James Fairfax', Art and Australia, Sydney, vol. 3, no. 3, December 1965, p. 177, 180 (illus.) Jane Clark, Sidney Nolan, Landscapes & Legends, a retrospective exhibition: 1937 - 1987, National Gallery of Victoria, 1987, pg. 61 (illus.) 'Boats' Barry Pearce, Sidney Nolan, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Beagle Press, Sydney, 2008, pg. 108 (illus.)
Sidney Nolan's St Kilda paintings of the 1940s capture the light, heat and vibrancy of Australian beach life. This period in Nolan's life was defined by great artistic exploration and progress, which is confirmed by former National Gallery of Victoria curator Jane Clark, 'These wartime years mark Nolan's first intense personal and artistic identification with the Australian landscape; a synthesis of his ideas about painting; and a period of development more concentrated, perhaps, than any other time in his career.'
Nolan undertook this intense period of painting whilst stationed until 1945, in the Wimmera district of Victoria, undertaking his army duties. The scenery surrounding him was limited in distinct features aside from the searing heat and flat, dry environs associated with the desert. Whilst taking immediate references from this harsh landscape, which are seen in many significant works of this period, Nolan also drew inspiration from his childhood memories and used these subjects to compose his imagery. The artist's use of memory was significant to his interpretation of life, as Nolan states, 'Memory is, I am sure one of the main factors in my particular way of looking at things. In some ways it seems to sharpen the magic in a way that cannot be achieved by direct means.' With so little movement and activity to inspire him in the Wimmera landscape, vivid imagery drawn from happy memories of his early days on the beach at St Kilda, appeared with vigour at this time. Bathers and boats were typical subjects the beach was one of his great loves.
Nolan was very much involved in the activities of the beach as a young boy his father was a volunteer surf lifesaver and naturally, Nolan spent much of his time swimming and lazing on the sand with friends, all the while absorbing the atmospherics and the key features of such captivating and pleasant scenery. It seems in fact, that Nolan was never very far away from the beach when he says he, 'spent all day and much of the night at the beach it was university, gymnasium, everything combined.' In later years, he also lived by the seaside at Ocean Grove with his first wife, Elizabeth Paterson and often visited Sunday and John Reed at their beach house in Sorrento.
A delightful painting, Boats, St Kilda c.1945 displays the utmost simplicity of form inherent in Nolan's 'bathers' series and the strong element of stripes seen in many compositions featuring St Kilda piers and boardwalks. Bright blue shadows of the boats are cast along the sand, the application of which is reflective of colour executed by Impressionist artists such as Monet, while the mysterious shadow of a figure, perhaps of the artist, creates an optical play on reality a device he used in his later 'Kelly' series. Nolan brings the beach into this work, literally, with the deliberate addition of sand laid directly into wet paint, a technique of Surrealist artists such as Dali. Meanwhile, a flock of seagulls glide above the water in the distance.
This work is both a celebration of the Australian summer the light and colour of the sun, sand and sea and of the memories of untroubled and free-spirited youth. Notably, it has featured in significant retrospectives and surveys of Nolan's life and work at major galleries around the country.
1 Clark, Jane. (1987) Sidney Nolan, Landscapes and Legends: a Retrospective Exhibition, 1937 1987, Sydney: International Cultural Corporation of Australia Limited, p 42. 2 Ibid, p 51. 3 Ibid, p 61.