DIVER, 1945

Important Australian + International Fine Art
27 August 2008

Sidney Nolan

(1917 - 1992)
DIVER, 1945

cipolin enamel on board

63.5 x 76.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: August 1st 45 / N
inscribed with title and date verso

$120,000 - 160,000
Sold for $132,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 5 - 27 August 2008, Melbourne

Estate of the artist, London
Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd, London
Martin Browne Fine Art, Sydney
On loan to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1999 – 2001 (label attached verso)
Private collection, Sydney


Sidney Nolan, Hatton Gallery, University of Newcastle–Upon–Tyne, March 1961, cat. 21, and touring to Sheffield, Leeds, Hull, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Wakefield
Nolan '37–'47, Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 1962, cat. 25 (as 'Luna Park')
Nolan's Nolans: A Reputation Reassessed, Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd., London, 11 June – 25 July 1997, cat. 18 (illus.)


Lynn, E., Sidney Nolan: Myth and Imagery, Macmillan, London, 1967, pp. 17 & 65, pl. 15 (illus.)
Rosenthal, T. G., Sidney Nolan, Thames & Hudson, London, 2002, pp. 30 & 32 (illus.)

Catalogue text

Melbourne's beachside suburb of St. Kilda played an inspirational role in Sidney Nolan's early art, as seen in Diver, to which he also gave the title 'Luna Park' in its 1962 exhibition in London. Both titles share location and a mood of fun - St. Kilda as a place of pleasure, its beaches, and the home of Luna Park. Somersaulting and diving through the air with a wonderful freedom, the figures draw upon Nolan's personal experiences, the artist having been a talented amateur high diver and gymnast in his youth. This gave an added vividness to Nolan's highly inventive imagery, the sense of feel being greater than the visual reality in experiencing the moment with the viewer. The theme of the gymnast or acrobat runs throughout the 1945 Bather series to which this painting belongs, exhibiting that typical Nolan blend of the sophisticated and the naive. The cavorting figures express not only the carefree joys of childhood, but also that childish delight expressed in the call 'look at me!' Of this painting, Elwyn Lynn wrote of '...six girls diving and tossing like swallows, all simultaneously in the air, thus presaging the summer of levitated saints and policemen.'1 It was at this time that Nolan also started work on his first Ned Kelly series of paintings.

The Nolan family lived in St. Kilda from 1917 to 1931 where Sidney Nolan attended the local state school. Inspired by boyhood recollections, he painted a whole range of St. Kilda works in 1945 embracing events such as Fire, Palais de Danse, St. Kilda, or the Ferris Wheel (Heide Museum of Modern Art), Giggle-Palace (Art Gallery of South Australia) and the related series of amusingly distorting images. Themes of fun and joy continue throughout these evocations of Nolan's childhood, so redolent and engaging in their expression of the wondrous careless sense of youth. Diver follows on the Bather paintings of May-August 1945, same in size and subject, the fantastical allied to the inventive and adventurous mind of childhood. It was one of many paintings which Nolan kept throughout his life. Some years later Nolan observed, 'Seeing these pictures again is a bit like looking into a pool and seeing your own reflection - memory puts ripples across it.'2 Diver was included in Agnew's 1997 London exhibition of paintings from the artist's estate. 'Like Picasso,' Nicholas Usherwood noted in the accompanying catalogue, 'Sidney Nolan always liked to keep a large body of his own works around him, to be used as points of reference for themes and ideas that he returned to continually throughout an artistic career quite remarkable for its continuity of thought and intention.'3

1. Lynn, op. cit., p. 17
2. Nolan in Queen, London, 15 May 1962, quoted in Clark, J., Sidney Nolan: Landscapes & Legends, International Cultural Corporation of Australia Limited, Sydney, 1987, p. 65
3. Usherwood, N., 'Introduction', Nolan's Nolans: A Reputation Reassessed, Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd., London, 1997, n.p.