Important Australian + International Fine Art
30 November 2011


(1917 - 1992)

ripolin enamel on pulpboard

63.0 x 75.0 cm

$140,000 - 180,000

Barry Stern Gallery, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney
Sotheby's, Melbourne, 2 May 2000, lot 78
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Painted just prior to the infamous Ern Malley poems of 1944, and Sidney Nolan's desertion of the army, the Wimmera paintings, of which Robbing the Bank is a classic example, belong to a period which was formative in the development of Nolan's conception of self and his ideas around being a painter. The subjects explored both here and in the companion St Kilda works are direct precursors of the Ned Kelly series; hard and luminous harbingers whose influence were to leave an indelible mark on Nolan's work.

Originally posted to Dimboola in 1942 to guard a food store, Nolan sought to develop a completely modern and reinvigorated adaptation of the Australian landscape. Exploring the small country communities which are scattered along the train line, Nolan produced works such as Kiata 1943, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and of the same year, Wail (Railway Station, Wimmera), held in a private collection. Exhibiting regularly with the Contemporary Art Society in Melbourne and Sydney, the landscapes of this time reflect a myriad of influences. Of particular note was the impact of Cézanne whose paintings Nolan saw at the Melbourne Herald's Exhibition of French and British contemporary art in 1939. The Wimmera is a flat and open country, studded with clusters of silos and low buildings around townships. As noted by Barry Pearce, 'Following his perception of Cézanne, he managed to raise the horizon lines from the vantage points of the silos and railway bridges, or by sheer distortion from ground level, divide the picture plane into flat horizontal sections sliced through here and there by railway lines and roads.'1

Nolan's work of the 1940s contains a purity and vigour of which Albert Tucker observed,'we glimpse for the first time since Roberts, McCubbin and the early Streeton, the return of an authentic national vision on a higher and more independent level.'2 Nolan had in effect constructed a poetic stage upon which the drama of Ned Kelly saga might be played out. Like a vignette, Robbing the Bank, explores a motif which is fully manifested in Robbed 1947, now held in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Describing Sidney Nolan and the impact of his work upon Australian art, Edmund Capon notes, 'Nolan is the most familiar in the history of modern Australian art; indeed his name is synonymous with Australia. And yet he remains something of an enigma. There are reasons for this, not the least of which was his challenge to the Australian visual art tradition established, essentially, in the landscape. Nolan introduced human drama into the hitherto unpopulated by defining image of the Australian landscape. Whilst he used it as the setting for his excursions into the human condition, it was not the natural but the human landscape that drove and sustained his curiosity and imagination.'3

1. Pearce, B., Sidney Nolan, 1917-1992, Art Gallery of New South Wales and The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2007, p. 27
2. Tucker, A., 'Two Melbourne exhibitions of paintings', Angry Penguins, 5 September 1943
3. Capon, E., I Blame Duchamp - My Life's Adventures in Art, Penguin Group, Victoria, 2009, p. 59