Important Australian + International Fine Art
31 August 2011


born 1928

watercolour, gouache and pastel on paper

100.0 x 95.0 cm

signed, dated and inscribed lower left: John / Olsen 97 / Lily Pond
signed, dated, titled and inscribed verso: Morning Sun & Lily Pond / John Olsen 97 / Southbank Gallery

$45,000 - 55,000
Sold for $63,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 21 - 31 August 2011, Melbourne

Australian Art Resources, Southbank Gallery, Melbourne (label attached verso)
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

'The urge for life is a staggering thing and we just ought to take notice... There is such fecundity in this universe called a lily pond'.1

Morning Sun and Lily Pond 1997 is part of a long and sustained series of devotional works dedicated to Australian animal life and its diverse natural habitats. Olsen began a succession of journeys around Australia observing and painting the teeming life he found in the rainforests, wet lands, creeks, billabongs and lily ponds. In 1974 when Lake Eyre filled for only the second time since white settlement he travelled there with friends exclaiming in his diary that, 'it is like a carnival of life'. It was like a miracle, an affirmation of life, to witness the great dry saltpans of the South Australian desert coming to life, full of birdlife, amphibians, insects and plants all gurgling and busy with life and the impetus to reproduce while such transient conditions allow. He wrote, 'I draw studies of insects, animals and birds that will eventually be realised as prints and watercolours. My devotion to Chinese art and philosophy finds a fulfilment in this experience. Nothing too small or too strange should escape my attention - an insect's wing, the leap of a frog, the flight-patterns of dragonflies. They all induce poetic rapture'.2

Many artists from all epochs and cultures have found inspiration in the natural world and through intense observation have reverently captured its minutiae on paper like a form of spiritual communion. This wonderment at mother nature is amply evident in Olsen's many watercolours and drawings of the lily pond. His great ability seems to be in how he captures a split second in nature when a frog jumps forth from under a lily pad while another dives down into the water, its spindly legs and padded feet splayed in the air. Teeming with Olsen's trademark frogs, Morning Sun and Lily pond perfectly depicts that moment in time when the sun finally comes out after a long wet spell and shines forth on the burgeoning life below it.

1. Olsen, J., quoted in Hart, D., John Olsen, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1991, p. 123
2. Olsen, J., Drawn from Life, Duffy and Snellgrove, Sydney, 1997, p. 116