Part 1: Important Fine Art
28 November 2012


(1917 - 1992)

ripolin on composition board

122.0 x 91.5 cm

signed and dated verso: Nolan May 1960 / E McALPINE ...

$45,000 - 60,000

Lord McAlpine of West Green, United Kingdom
Patrick Corbally Stourton, London
Private collection, London
Company collection, London


London to Sydney, Agnew's Gallery at Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, 8–19 November 2011, cat. 59 (label attached verso)


London to Sydney, Agnew's Gallery, London, 2011, pp. 46–47 (illus.)

Catalogue text

In his evocative series of Leda and the Swan paintings, Sidney Nolan presents a narrative of movement, of confrontation to coition. The ancient Greek's Jupiter, Zeus for the Romans, was so enthralled by the beauty of Leda that he turned himself into the equally beautiful swan, the embrace of the gods always being fruitful. Form echoes form, the long neck of one in that of the other, a curve transforming into the curvaceous. For the ancients the swan, in all its beauty, was an attribute of Aphrodite (Venus) goddess of love. Moreover, fable has it that the souls of poets entered into swans. While the literary inclined Nolan readily gave in to such temptation, he acknowledged that 'There is always an abstract feeling and one starts from this.'1 The speed with which he painted these works gives them added passion and appeal. Cynthia Nolan recalled, 'During the day he painted on the floor, first placing areas of colour on the prepared board, next sweeping on polyvinyl acetate until the whole 4 x 5 feet area was thick with paint, then seizing a short handled squeegee and slashing and wiping, cornering and circling like a skater, until another painting was completed.'2 Scholars have pointed out that Nolan's inspiration for Leda came from the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, and W.B. Yeats, and, by Nolan's acknowledgement, the Australian poet Alwyn Lee.3 Our painting translates Rilke's line 'In the beloved the god was lost' into vibrantly applied paint.4 Here the grouping is more confrontational, implied sexual imagery more explicit, and colours throbbing in a moment of arrested movement pregnant with what is to transpire. The surrounding darkness visible conspires to shelter the god from mortal eye in the moment of his passion. Through the imaginative versatility of Nolan the viewer is allowed to share the momentous occasion.

1. Sidney Nolan, quoted in Clark, J., Sidney Nolan: Landscape and Legends, International Cultural Corporation of Australia Limited, Sydney 1987, p. 133
2. Nolan, C., Open Negative: An American Memoir, p. 224, quoted in Clark, op. cit., p. 131
3. Rosenthal, T.G., Sidney Nolan, Thames and Hudson, London, 2002, pp. 145-146
4. Sidney Nolan, quoted ibid, p. 145