Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 November 2007

Sidney Nolan

(1917 - 1992)

oil on composition board

122.0 x 152.0 cm

signed with initial lower right: N.

$75,000 - $95,000
Sold for $78,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 3 - 29 November 2007, Melbourne

Lord McAlpine of West Green
Sotheby's, Melbourne, 26 November 2002, lot 53
Ron Coles Investment Gallery, New South Wales
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

'...The main thing that struck me, the first time I saw the animals in their free state, is that they looked like new works of art - shining as if they'd just been painted by someone whose name I didn't know. Then I realised that they are beautiful, and marked in the way they are, so that they can look at each other; and for the first time I understood that they must have an aesthetic sense too, and that in painting them I merely hope to participate in this thing between them. I feel that there's a kind of painting to be done with animals and natural camouflage that would be, in a sense, a no-painting; there would be a total disappearance of the image - but if you stared at the painting long enough, the image would eventually waft up... I haven't got around to this yet, but I should like to try it. At Serengeti the great herds in migration are just like the walls of Lascaux come alive... These animals have a message for us in that they are unique - the message will become fossilized as the species die out. One comes to view them as works which will not be repeated again; the fascination of going to see a zebra or a gazelle is the fascination of discovering a perfect shape.'1

When first exhibited at Marlborough Fine Art, London in June 1963, the animal paintings inspired by Nolan's recent African journey attracted enormous acclaim, with buyers including celebrities such as the Queen and Hollywood star Rod Stieger. Seeking to bestow a tentative permanence to the elusive transience of the African landscape, Nolan here radically abandoned the polyvinyl acetate medium he had employed since the Gallipoli, Leda and Mrs Fraser paintings of the late fifties and early sixties, in preference for translucent washes of oil paint, with details rendered in a more heavily loaded brush. Thus, in works such as the present Elephant and Calf, c.1963, it is the technique itself as much as the image which evokes the febrile sense of animals in motion and the endless, evanescent plains so characteristic of his African experience; as the artist mused, 'a fuzz of colour, a dyed streaky ground, texture achieved through the pigment, finally a deft stroke... to mark out the essential characteristic hieroglyph.'2 As observed by a reviewer at the time of the London exhibition, 'Seldom perhaps has the fugitive nature of the wild creature been so excellently conveyed, nor so much essential feeling extracted from the confrontation between man and beast.'3

1. Nolan quoted in The Queen, London, 24 April 1963
2. ibid.
3. Retallack, A., The Arts Review, London, 4-18 May 1963