Important Australian + International Fine Art
20 April 2011


(1917 - 1992)

ripolin enamel on composition board

91.0 x 122.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: Nolan / 27.9.1948

$100,000 - 140,000

David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney, purchased from the above 1949
Sotheby's, Sydney, 16 August 1999, lot 87
Private collection, Sydney


Sidney Nolan, Queensland Outback paintings, David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney, March 1949, cat. 16
Escape Artists – Modernists in the Tropics, Cairns Regional Art Gallery and tour, 30 May 1998 – 27 June 1999, p. 77 (illus.)

Catalogue text

The year 1947 brought great changes to Nolan's life; the final issue of Angry Penguins, suspension of operations of the Contemporary Arts Society, Nolan's friend Albert Tucker leaving for Europe, it was time to move on from Heide and look further afield. Partly inspired by John and Sunday Reed's description of Queensland and partly as need to understand the circumstances of the death of his brother, Raymond, in July of 1947 Nolan departed Essendon aerodrome to fly to Brisbane. The experience of his first flight had an impact on the artist who wrote to the Reeds, 'Visually it is extraordinary. In those first three minutes all my previous modes of seeing seemed to undergo real change.'1

In Brisbane, Nolan visited the John Oxley Library where he read of the history of Mrs Eliza Fraser in the Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle and Captain Cook's Voyages; books which would be the catalyst for two remarkable bodies of work: the Eliza Fraser series and the Queensland Outback paintings. Nolan noted that he 'read a good deal about Cook; beginning to feel him connected with all the barrier reef visions & treasures. Perhaps he isn't really but there is something moving about his precise descriptions of how he found his way through all the coral'.2 Found his way Cook did, but not without incident.

The mouth of the Endeavour River, now called Cooktown, was the site at which James Cook manoeuvred the damaged ship, Endeavour, which he captained, to be repaired after running hard aground on the Great Barrier Reef in June 1770. It took a week to locate a suitable site where the leaking Endeavour could be beached and careened to repair the hull. Due to unfavourable winds, Cook and the crew stayed in the Endeavour River for nearly two months, but it was during this period Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander collected a large number of plant specimens which became the basis for the remarkable fourteen volume portfolio of engravings, Banks' Florilegium. It was also here that the Kangaroo and Dingo were first seen by the English explorers.

Nolan's Queensland travels and the artist's subsequent reflection on the landscape caused a major shift away from the faux-naif formulations of the Ned Kelly series of 1946-47 and towards a more mature visual style. Gone is the vivid palette of earlier years, replaced by ochre and earthen hues and the tones of the Australian sky, rendered with the immediacy that is demanded by the Ripolin enamel paint he now used. As Gavin Wilson describes, 'Nolan's images seem to emerge in one pure action clearly and simply as though they were being pulled off like a transfer. This riveting effect is seen evident in the rarely seen work, Endeavour River 1948. Nolan's snapshot vision evokes the ragged quality of the landscape that surrounds the upper reaches of the Endeavour River.'3

Endeavour River was exhibited at the David Jones Art Gallery in 1949 in the exhibition, Sidney Nolan: Queensland Outback Paintings, featuring thirty-seven paintings by the artist. Critically acclaimed, the exhibition established Nolan as a leading modernist artist of Australia. Harry Tatlock Miller in the Sydney Sun was unambiguous in his praise of the exhibition which, '... makes an amazing impact and leaves an indelible impression - a sense of vast space - still, silent and everlasting. I can remember no exhibition by a Contemporary Australian artist which, with such seemingly disarming innocence of eye and hand, reveals so much individuality of vision. He gives us the sensation of seeing and knowing our country, both its landscape and its legend, for the first time.'4

Other paintings from Nolan's 1949 exhibition, purchased for major collections or widely exhibited have now become some of the most important images in Australia's'collective memory'; Mrs Fraser 1947 (Queensland Art Gallery), Dog and Duck Hotel 1948 (MONA Collection, Hobart), Huggard's Store 1948 (University of Western Australia), Little Dog Mine 1948 (Holmes à Court Collection) and Pretty Polly Mine 1948 (Art Gallery of New South Wales), Endeavour River is work of great pedigree and enduring presence.

1. Clark, J., Sidney Nolan Landscapes & Legends, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne,1987, p. 89
2. ibid.
3. Wilson, G., Escape Artists: Modernists in the Tropics, Cairns Regional Gallery, Cairns, 1998, p.77
4. Tatlock Miller, H., 'Amazing Impact By Australian Artist', The Sun, Sydney, 8 March 1949, p. 8