Part 1: Important Fine Art
28 November 2012


(1917 - 1992)

ripolin on composition board

122.0 x 152.5 cm

signed with initial lower right: N
signed, dated and inscribed verso: LEDA & SWAN / 48 x 60 No 85 nolan / 1960 / To Newcastle

$80,000 - 100,000
Sold for $90,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 27 - 28 November 2012, Melbourne

Marlborough Fine Art, London
Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney, acquired from the above in 1994
Christie's, Melbourne, 22 August 2005, lot 83
Company collection, London


Possibly Nolan, Hatton Gallery, University of Newcastle, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, 24 March – 6 May 1961 and touring to Sheffield, Leeds, Hull, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Wakefield, United Kingdom, 13 May – 28 November 1961
London to Sydney, Agnew's Gallery at Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, 8–19 November 2011, cat. 48 (label attached verso)


London to Sydney, Agnew's Gallery, London, 2011, pp. 32–33 (illus.)

Catalogue text

Of all the Greek legends about the amours of Jupiter, king of the gods, that of Leda and the Swan is one of the most fascinating. Jupiter's metamorphosis into a swan to woo Leda led to the birth of Helen. And her unrivalled beauty led to that most heroic of all wars, between the ancient Greeks and Trojans, the Trojan War immortalized by Homer. With his love of myth and legend, Sidney Nolan readily embraced the tale in his first sortie outside the boundaries of an Australian theme, of Ned Kelly, Mrs Fraser and company. Nevertheless, it was through the poetic imagery of the Leda myth that Nolan linked the legend of the Anzacs to that of the ancient Greeks and Trojans, and their shared battleground. Of his 1958-60 paintings, Nolan said the 'series was not merely an interpretation of an ancient myth. It was, in fact, a dry run for my Gallipoli series.'1 The 'dry run' was highly successful, producing works of great sensual beauty, as seen in the 1958 and 1960 masterpieces that enrich the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Ballarat respectively, as well as those in notable private collections in Great Britain and Australia. The series was first exhibited at the Matthiesen Gallery, London in June 1960. Purchasers included HM Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Kenneth Clark, and Agatha Christie. Widely acclaimed, their success reinforced Nolan's international reputation and broadened its basis.

Nolan's seemingly limitless talent for creative invention runs throughout the Leda paintings, especially in his many variations on the interrelationship between two figures in animated movement - of curvaceous necks and sweep of wings. These variations, as in our painting, provide one of the special attractions of the series. Given the passion of the encounter and the tragedy of its outcome, colour likewise plays a significant role - of blood red in the Art Gallery of New South Wales's painting, and the bewitching multi-coloured darkness in our own work. In his mastery of poetic image and expressive medium, Nolan produced a series of paintings in which Leda and her swan float in subacqueous fields of deep, resonate colour. Worked with breathtaking ease, figures merge and emerge through the working of the paint, scraped to reveal, over-painted to define or conceal. Colours of rainbow delight entice out of the theatrical darkness of legendary time, brought into the spotlight of the present with a fluidity that is enchantingly lyrical.

1. Interview with Noel Barber in Conversations with Painters, Collins, London, 1964