Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 August 2015


born 1928

oil on canvas

182.0 x 244.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: John / Olsen 91-92 inscribed verso: 'Nolan at BROOME'

$250,000 - 350,000

Sherman Galleries, Sydney (label attached verso) 
The Mecenat collection, Sydney (label attached verso) 
Gene and Brian Sherman collection, Sydney


The Mecenat Collection, Sherman Galleries, Sydney, 21 January – February 21 1998, cat. 2 
Escape Artists: Modernists in the Tropics, Cairns Regional Gallery, Queensland, 30 May – 30 August 1998; Rockhampton City Art Gallery, Queensland, 23 September – 31 October 1998; Brisbane City Gallery, Brisbane, 21 November 1998 – 10 January 1999; Mosman Regional Gallery, Sydney, 19 January – 24 February 1999; Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Victoria, 5 March – 9 May 1999; Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville, 21 May – 27 June 1999 
The Rose Crossing: Contemporary Art in Australia, Brisbane City Gallery, Brisbane, 8 September – 23 October 1999; Hong Kong Arts Centre, China, 29 November – 20 December 1999; Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 10 February – 28 March 2000; Holmes à Court Gallery, Perth, 29 April – 29 May 2000; then touring 
to S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney and Campbelltown City Bicentennial Art Gallery, Campbelltown, 2000 
Pulse: Paintings by John Olsen 1961–2005, TarraWarra Museum, Victoria, 29 May – 23 October 2005


Wilson, G., Escape Artists: Modernists in the Tropics, Cairns Regional Gallery, Queensland, 1998, p. 160 (illus. p. 161) 
Pulse: Paintings by John Olsen 1961–2005, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria, 2005, p. 12

Catalogue text

Nolan at Broome unites two of Australia's great artists, John Olsen and Sidney Nolan, though in life they hardly ever met. In spite of this, Olsen often referred to the older painter in his diaries and one entry reads: 'Nolan ... understood the irrationality of the Australian landscape, from the classical perspective, its bizarre nature, its irredeemable untidiness. This intractable quality was also its freshness; he saw its saving grace for the painter.'1

In 1990, Olsen moved to Rydal, NSW, and the following year he was honoured with a major Retrospective (curated by James Mollison) which opened at the National Gallery of Victoria in November. Some months before the move, Olsen had commenced a series of 'gypsy caravan' paintings noting that, for him, 'a gypsy caravan is the ultimate symbol of freedom and independence from all those who want to dominate us.'2

It is probable that Nolan at Broome started as an unresolved caravan painting. Although there is no evidence that the two artists ever met in Broome,3 Olsen noted in his diary that Nolan had visited the Retrospective. In November 1992, Nolan died and it would seem Olsen was moved to return to the incomplete canvas and reinterpret it as an homage to his late colleague.4 The image is 'based on a photograph of Nolan sitting at a table at Heide in Melbourne during ... [the 1940s]. In the painting, Olsen transmutes this recollection in to the hot tropical environment of the Pindan country of north Western Australia.'5 Nolan sits in a modified caravan which now serves as an artist's studio, echoing the familiar elevated architecture of Broome. Holding brushes and a palette as his legs dangle over the edge, he is surrounded by artistic paraphernalia, pots of paint, chairs and a rug. Awnings and a juxtaposed ceiling fan provide cooling relief whilst the lit edges of the artist's face and arm indicate the heat of his surroundings. Outside, the landscape is typical Olsen, teeming with vegetative squiggles and tracery which recall Nolan's own landscapes in the background of his famous Ned Kelly series of 1946-1947.

Nolan at Broome was exhibited in John Olsen's first solo show following the 1991-92 Retrospective. Held at Sherman Galleries Goodhope in Sydney, the exhibition was a great success. The gallery's owners were also suitably impressed as the painting was already marked as 'sold' on the pricelist and has remained in the Sherman Collection ever since. 

1. Hart, D., John Olsen, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2000 (2nd edition), p. 212
2. Hawley, J., 'John Olsen', Encounters with Australian Artists, University of Queensland Press, Queensland, 1993, p. 128
3. Olsen had purchased a house in Broome in 1990, as a result of discussions with Lord Alistair MacAlpine, the owner/developer of the Cable Beach Resort. MacAlpine had close connections with Nolan having met him in London in the mid-1960s. He also gave Nolan the use of a large studio-cottage at Cable Beach for some years during the 1980s.
4. See Olsen, J., Olsen on Olsen, Duffy and Snellgrove, Sydney, 1997, p. 294
5. Hart, D., op. cit., p. 212