Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 August 2013


born 1928

watercolour on paper

52.5 x 128.5 cm

signed lower right: John / Olsen

$70,000 - 90,000
Sold for $100,800 (inc. BP) in Auction 30 - 28 August 2013, Sydney

Private collection
Sotheby's, Melbourne, 11 April 2006, lot 45
Private collection, Queensland

Catalogue text

I am a wandering minstrel, wandering through a strange landscape ... Somehow you seem to pinpoint certain things which mean something to you, even though you can't explain it. I mean, what is a frog? A frog waiting to be kissed so he can turn into a prince!'1

Wandering through the Australian landscape during the 1970s and 80s, John Olsen became transfixed with frogs. Illuminating his fascination with these amphibians, the painting on offer portrays three spritely and agile frogs that bound out of their watery haven and playfully leap off the paper, as a Brolga flies past in the background. The translucent wash of watercolour replicates the ponds and estuaries and the blue sky, while the bold swirling lines of the composition mimic the waving limbs of the frogs, which Olsen has likened to a 'sense of mental dislocation'.2 Such a human attribution is further enhanced by Olsen's ability to dedicate individual characters to each frog. As Deborah Hart discusses, no two frogs are ever alike, 'Although in exhibitions in the 1970s there was occasionally an over-abundance of frogs in accordance with Olsen's obsessive personality, no two frogs were ever the same. He often did a large number of drawings before he was able to reach one that captured the essence of this spirited creature.'3

Beguiled by nature and her complex ecosystem, Olsen undertook many journeys around Australia which saw him participate in the Wild Australia television series in 1972, produced by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. During the final episode of Wild Australia, Olsen was found 'near a waterfall holding in his hands a glistening little wet frog. This was the start of his passionate fascination with these agile amphibians. In his notebooks, Olsen made sketches of these creatures, closely examining their structure... He was entranced by their vital energy as well as by their disjointed quality.'4

1. Olsen, quoted in Hart, D., John Olsen, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1991, p. 125
2. Hart, D., op. cit., p. 129
3. Ibid., p. 130
4. Ibid., p. 129