MINE, c.1972

Important Australian + International Fine Art
4 May 2016


(1917 – 1992)
MINE, c.1972

oil and synthetic polymer paint on composition board

151.5 x 121.0 cm

signed lower right: Nolan
inscribed verso: MINE / NOLAN

$60,000 – 80,000
Sold for $109,800 (inc. BP) in Auction 42 - 4 May 2016, Melbourne

Marlborough Fine Art, London, December 1972
Private collection
John Buckley Contemporary Art, Melbourne, April 1988
Elders IXL Collection (label attached verso)
Sotheby’s, Melbourne, 23 May 2005, lot 46 (as ‘Miner’)
Private collection, Sydney


Sidney Nolan Paintings, Marlborough Fine Art, London, December 1972, cat. 29
Paintings and Tapestries by Sidney Nolan, David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney, 6 – 24 November 1973, cat. 1 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)


Adams, B., Sidney Nolan: Such is Life, Hutchinson, Melbourne, 1987, p. 151 (illus.)
Boys, L., ‘Nolan’s London Triumph’, The Australian Women's Weekly, Sydney, 31 January 1973, p. 47 (illus.)

Catalogue text

Sidney Nolan was a painter unapologetically estranged from Western traditions of landscape painting, creating instead a vast oeuvre of his own irreverent iconography, which distilled selected elements of Australian society and the mythologies surrounding them. Nolan often returned to the same subject matter and geographical locations. Mining, a significant force in Australian culture and politics, was no exception, appearing in his paintings from the 1940s through to the 1970s. After the artist’s return to both oil painting and landscape in 1960, Nolan adopted a new approach to the motif of inland Australia, one that Patrick McCaughey, former director of the National Gallery of Victoria, described as ‘perversely at odds with his own earlier well-established manner’.1

This work, Mine, 1972, is one of two large format paintings within a small series of square portraits featuring miners working in the iron ore mines of Mount Tom Price in the Hamersley Range of northern Western Australia. These two paintings, one vertical and one horizontal, both titled Mine, are the only ones of this unique series to include a view of an active mine within a portrait (as opposed to the derelict Mount Isa mine in the whimsical Pretty Polly Mine, 1948 in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales). A helmeted and bespectacled figure stands in the foreground, unmoving and anonymous, not unlike Nolan’s iconic Ned Kelly. This miner has none of the disfigurement and squalor that colour Nolan’s character studies of his colleagues. He is pitted against the flat, scarred landscape behind him, which includes mining machinery sketched out with a paint-laden brush, belching oily purple plumes of smoke. The overall impression is one of distinctly Nolanesque strangeness, a dramatic convergence of an unperturbed man and an allegorical inferno.

Nolan created this work soon after visiting the mines over a six-week trip to WA in March 1972 with his second wife Cynthia and a small film crew, filming the independent production Kelly Country. He was struck by the harsh realities of the mining industry, particularly after interviewing several of the miners. The painted character studies he subsequently produced convey a dystopian vision of the Australian outback. T. G. Rosenthal noted in his 2002 monograph ‘The miner sequence is, psychologically at least, the closest Nolan ever came to social realism’. 2

1. McCaughey, P., ‘Sidney Nolan: Experience, Memory and the Emphatic Present’, Sidney Nolan, Landscapes and Legends, A Retrospective Exhibition 1937 -1987, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1987, p. 13
2. Rosenthal, T.G., Sidney Nolan, Thames and Hudson, London, 2002, p. 197