BATHER, 1945

Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 August 2013


(1917 - 1992)
BATHER, 1945

Ripolin enamel on composition board

61.5 x 74.0 cm

signed with initial, dated and inscribed with title lower right: Bather / June 20th '45 / N

$60,000 - 80,000
Sold for $66,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 30 - 28 August 2013, Sydney

The Estate of Sir Sidney Nolan, United Kingdom
Sotheby's, Melbourne, 16 September 2001, lot 72
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Sidney Nolan loved the beach. Living in the Melbourne bayside suburb of St Kilda, he happily spent much of his youth there, becoming a talented amateur high diver and gymnast. Recounting those times, Nolan said he 'spent all day and much of the night on the beach ' was a university, gymnasium, everything combined'.1 The appeal was so strong that in one day in May 1945 he painted four remarkable works full of the exuberant enjoyment of sun, sand, and water - Bather (At Morning), Bather and Sandcastle, Bather (At Sunset) and Bather (At Night). Each is dated 'May 29th 45'.2 Our painting, Bather, 1945, was painted a few weeks later together with its companion Bather, St Kilda Beach, each dated 'June 20th 45'.

After Nolan left the army in 1944, he recalled, 'like a lot of others, I tried to recapture things, to see things again, to re-experienced them'.3 Returning to St Kilda provided him with a wealth of memories and happy recollections from his youth, of Luna Park, couples in Catani Garden, 1945 (Nolan Gallery, near Canberra), and most of all the beach. To evoke these memories the more effectively, Nolan adopted a naive, child-like manner to suit the style to the subject. There is a flatness of the picture plane with figures and forms crossing or rising up the picture surface, rather than into it as an illusion of depth. Colours are simple, bold and bright. In our painting, the posed figure of the girl, the sand, and pylons of the St Kilda pier are right up on the surface, the absence of a skyline adding to the effect. Into this the artist introduces the wondrous effect of water, wet, floating, and reflecting. Nolan once said, 'Memory is I am sure one of the main factors in my particular way of looking at things. In some ways it seems to sharpen the magic in a way that cannot be achieved by direct means.'4 It has been suggested that the young girl featured in this work and the other above-mentioned bather paintings is one of Nolan's sisters. In some he presents her as the holiday girl by the sea, as a creative recollection of happy days. In others, the sense of fun, especially in Bather and Sandcastle, is infectious, engendered by the inventive use of the ridiculous, arms and legs everywhere. It is not surprising that these early paintings of bathers were so important to Sidney Nolan that he kept many of them among of his personal collection.

1. Sidney Nolan, 'Down Under on a Visit', Queen, London, 15 May 1962, quoted in Clark, J., Sidney Nolan Landscapes and Legends, a retrospective exhibition: 1937-1987, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1987, p. 61
2. Nolan's Nolans: A Reputation Reassessed, Agnew's, London, 11 June - 25 July 1997, cat. 13-16 (illus.)
3. Lynn, E., Sidney Nolan -Australia, Bay Books, Sydney, 1979, p. 48
4. Nolan, quoted in Clark, J., op. cit., p. 51