Ned Kelly in a Landscape 1964 initialed 'N' lower left; inscribed '3 August 1964' lower right oil on board 120.5 x 121.0cm (47 7/16 x 47 5/8in).
PROVENANCE Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne (label attached verso) Private collection Australian and European Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings, Part I, Christies, Melbourne, 27 August 1997, lot 35 Savill Gallery, Sydney (label attached verso) Private collection, Melbourne
EXHIBITED Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York Ned Kelly and Beyond, Savill Galleries, Sydney, 18 March 9 April 1998, no. 6 (illus.)
The spirit of rebellion that lies close to the Australian heart has Ned Kelly as its hero, the national icon for the inherit dislike of authority. Sidney Nolan was tarred with the same brush as his fellow Irish descendant, except Nolan's brush was that of a highly gifted artist who painted his armoured bandit in a variety of landscapes that speak of his love of its beauty and unique Antipodean character. Kelly is as wild and rugged as the country he inhabits, stirred by the spirit that gave us Eureka Stockade, Waltzing Matilda, and the ANZACS. He grew up in north-east Victoria, living at 'Eleven Mile Creek in [as Manning Clark wrote] "one of those tracts of country where the bonds of civilisation had been so loosened that men threatened to become as savage as the region." ' 1 Like in the best of legends, facts are never allowed to interfere with the telling of a good story as Kelley morphed from history into mythology aided by the inventive lyricism of Nolan's imagination. The cry for injustice muffles the violence, as Constable Scanlon is shot from his horse in a world of up-side-downess, and Sergeant Kennedy's blood stains the earth of Stringybark Creek. 2 There is a quality about these first Kelly series of paintings of 1946-47 that distinguishes them as great works of art individuality of imagery, a naivety at once elegant and sophisticated, dressed in the most seductive of colours. Paradox is as central to Nolan as is Kelly. He is the subject of his finest paintings, riding through his career in his most popular works. Their arresting visual impact relies on the directness of statement. Here, a seeming simplicity catches then draws the eye into the painterly surfaces, adding strength to the dramatic narrative. Nolan's adaptation of Kelly's armour is not only a focal point but also a feature of attraction. Black, Centaur-like on horseback, his iron-masked head a television-shaped screen through which the sky or countryside can be viewed as in the first series Ned Kelly 1946 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), and in the painting on offer, Ned Kelly in a Landscape 1964. By the sixties, as can be seen in the title and imagery of our painting, Kelly had become part of the landscape, celebrated with magnificence in the mighty Riverbend I 1964-65 in the collection of The Australian National University, Canberra. Painted on nine panels and huge in size, the figure of Kelly, though now diminutive, is not overwhelmed. The black helmeted figure still draws the eye as Kelly and the Australian landscape become one. While Ned Kelly in a Landscape 1964 offers the collector a more containable version, the mythological hero now thrives in an equally heroic landscape, the outlaw inventively double-imaged as one.
1. Manning Clark, A History of Australia, London, 1995, quoted in T. G. Rosenthal, Sidney Nolan, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2002, pp.
2. See Death of Constable Scanlon and Death of Sergeant Kennedy at Stringybark Creek, 1946, collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.