Esplanade, St Kilda 1946 also known as 'The Clock Tower, St Kilda' signed with initial and dated 'N 46' lower right ripolin enamel on hardboard 91.5 x 122.0cm (36 x 48 1/16in).
PROVENANCE The collection of the artist Estate of the artist Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1995
EXHIBITED Contemporary Art Society, Seventh annual exhibition, Education Department, Sydney, 929 November 1945, cat. no. 249 Nolan '37-'47, International Exhibition and Sale of Contemporary Art, O'Hara Gallery, London, 15 May 1962, cat. no. 35 Sidney Nolan Retrospective Exhibition, touring exhibition, The Arts Centre, New Metropole, Folkestone, United Kingdom, February - April 1970; Hayworth Gallery, Accrington; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Ferens Art Gallery, Hull; University of East Anglia Library, cat. no. 4 Sidney Nolan, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 17 January 7 March 1976, cat. no. 16, titled Esplanad, St Kilda Sidney Nolan, Landscapes & Legends, a retrospective exhibition: 1937 1987, touring exhibition, 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 Sidney Nolan: a retrospective celebrating his 75th birthday, Harewood House, Yorkshire, 1992
LITERATURE 'Creative pudding, horror sauce', Sun, Sydney, 11 November 1945 Kenneth Clark, Colin MacInnes, Bryan Robertson, Sidney Nolan, Thames & Hudson, London, 1961, p. 64, pl. 13 (illus.), titled The Clock Tower, St Kilda Jane Clark, et al, Landscapes & Legends, a retrospective exhibition: 1937 1987, exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1987, p. 65 (illus.)
The Clock Tower in Nolan's Esplanade, St Kilda was built in memory of the Chief Engineer of the Victorian State Public Works Department, Carlo Catani (1852 1918) at a cost of £2,800 collected from residents of St Kilda. It was officially opened on 22 August 1932. The Tower was designed to be illuminated at night and was built in brick in Italian Renaissance style.1 The Catani Gardens are situated between the foreshore, Beaconsfield Parade and the Esplanade.2 Catani was responsible for a master plan to beautify the St Kilda foreshore to Point Ormond. Completed largely after his death, this resulted in the area becoming a leisure precinct to include St Kilda Sea Baths (1910-1990s), the Dreamland Amusement Park which existed between 1906 and 1909 and was replaced by Luna Park, and the Palais Theatre (1927 present). The Palais de Danse next to Luna Park was first built in 1913 and underwent four incarnations as a cinema. Redesigned in 1925 by Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Griffin, the stage was engulfed by fire prior to its completion in 1926.3
In 1945-46, Nolan completed a group of ripolin paintings on hardboard taken from his childhood memories of St Kilda. The entire St Kilda leisure precinct was recorded - at least six in 1945 and one in 1946. Giggle Palace on February 1 (Luna Park), Under the pier on February 6 (St Kilda Sea Baths), Catani Gardens, on 26 February, Robe Street, St Kilda completed on 7 June and exhibited in the Contemporary Art Society in August 1945. Two other paintings, Fire, Palais de Danse, St Kilda and Ferris wheel, were also made in 1945, but the specific dates are not recorded by the artist whose usual practice was to inscribe title and dates on the back of the work. Catani gardens 1945 is a precursor to Esplanade, St Kilda 1946, however the earlier painting is better known, having remained in the artist's collection until 1974, before it was donated 'to the Australian people' to be housed in the national capital by the Department of the Capital Territory. It was gifted along with twenty-three paintings made between 1945 and 1953 to the Lanyon Gallery.4
Common to all of the St Kilda paintings is the depiction of many figures in a naive child-like directness, all with a limited palate of white faces, summarily expressed: dots for eyes and dabs for mouths, (but no noses) and blue and red clothing. Did Nolan choose to paint the figures in such an ingenuous way because he had been looking at reproductions of Henri Rousseau? The Heide library of John and Sunday Reed was a great source of inspiration both literary and visual, and Nolan had annotated the catalogue of a major Henri Rousseau retrospective held in New York and Chicago.5 Rousseau's oil sketches, ('atmospheric' sketches Nolan called them) seem to have been Nolan's inspiration.6 This is true of Catani gardens 1945, the forerunner for Esplanade, St Kilda 1946 and sketches for the Kelly series made in the same year such as Mrs Kelly and the cart - raw ideas for larger and more finished statements.
Clive Turnbull, the art critic for The Herald, reviewing Nolan's paintings included in the 1945 Contemporary Art Society exhibition commented on the naivety of the figures:
The large, shiny pictures of Sidney Nolan with their doll-like figures, naïve to the point of grotesque, are likely to provoke the orthodox protestations "My little boy could do that, etc, etc," from those who go to scoff, nevertheless anyone who has not a hidebound set of prejudices should be able to derive pleasure from them...Robe St. St Kilda is one of the outstanding works in the show.7
Even though it was painted a year later, Turnbull's comments can apply to Esplanade, St Kilda 1946. The St Kilda figures are either participants or observers. Pasty faced couples, in their best primary coloured clothes, perhaps lovers, are secreted in the shadows below Canary Island date palms, or they sit along the promenade and sidewalks looking into the grassy park or out to the waves of Port Phillip Bay in a purple moonlight. The Clock Tower has struck 11pm, and the night is still young. The tangle of mazelike black paths are hyphenated by a galaxy of starlight or speckled street lights in which lovers and observers flâneur until the break of day.
1 The Argus, 23 August 1932, p. 6 2 En.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Kilda,_Victoria 3 En.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palais_de_Danse,St_Kilda 4 Twelve of the paintings on strawboard were preliminary sketches for the Kelly series, while the remainder were larger paintings on Masonite: two of St Kilda subjects, a Mrs Fraser painting, a Burke and Wills painting, a Central Australia painting and two Carcass paintings 5 Daniel Catton Rich, Henri Rousseau, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago, 1942. The Heide Library copy, sighted by the author in 1996 has Nolan's notes throughout 6 Andrew Sayers, "Kelly's words, Rousseau, and sunlight", in Warwick Reeder, The Ned Kelly Paintings. Nolan at Heide 1946-47, Museum of Modern Art at Heide, Bulleen, 1997, p. 29 7 Clive Turnbull, review of the C.A.S. exhibition, The Herald, Melbourne, 20 August 1945, quoted in Jane Clark, Sidney Nolan: Landscapes and Legends, National Gallery of Victoria, Cambridge University Press and International Cultural Corporation of Australia Limited 1987, p. 64