Important Australian + International Fine Art
4 May 2016


(1917 – 1992)

ripolin enamel on pulpboard

75.0 x 63.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: Nolan / 1947

$150,000 – 200,000
Sold for $183,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 42 - 4 May 2016, Melbourne

The artist, Herefordshire, England, until 1987
Lauraine Diggins Gallery, Melbourne
Private collection
Sotheby’s, Sydney, 16 August 1999, lot 61
Gene and Brian Sherman collection, Sydney (label attached verso)


Nolan: Myths, Landscapes and Portraits 1942-1964, Lauraine Diggins Gallery, Melbourne, 1987, cat. 6 (illus. And front cover)
Sidney Nolan Retrospective, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 3 November 2007 – 3 February 2008, National Gallery of Victoria, 22 February – 18 May 2008, Queensland Art Gallery, 6 June – 28 September 2008


Pearce, B., Sidney Nolan 1917 – 1992, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007, p. 131, cat. 41 (illus.)
Nolan: Myths, Landscapes and Portraits 1942 – 1964, Lauraine Diggins Gallery, Melbourne, 1987, cat. 6 (illus. and front cover)

Catalogue text

The twenty-six paintings which comprise the Ned Kelly cycle at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra are part of the country’s psyche. Painted by a young Sidney Nolan, they follow the saga of the Australia’s most contestable anti-hero and occupied the artist’s fertile imagination for two turbulent years. What is less known is that this final, somewhat winnowed selection comprises but a part of the full series of associated paintings which number some forty-five works in all, many of which were gifted by the artist to his eponymous museum in Lanyon, near Canberra. One sub-group features portraits of police troopers and Kelly Gang members, of which this painting, Police Trooper, 1947, is a fine example. These collective images operate like studio shots taken of members in some extensive theatrical saga, the main actors and the supporting cast.

Ned Kelly famously described police troopers as ‘big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords’;1 and Nolan’s portrait is just as impolite. Looking discomfited after months of his own fruitless pursuit, this particular trooper’s complexion is bilious green as he hovers against a pink and sherbet-orange background. The colour is Fauve but the drawing is pure Rousseau. The underpainting is left exposed around the trooper’s eye, nose and mouth, which adds to the complexity of the image elevating it from a straight copy into a fascinating interplay of techniques. Nolan then provides the merest suggestion of the man’s uniform, a zig-zag of black at the lower right which anchors the whole composition. Nolan and Kelly shared an Irish heritage which augmented the artist’s own self-proclaimed ‘outlaw’ personality, such that his colleague Albert Tucker always started letters to Nolan with the words ‘Dear Ned’. There was also a familial connection with the artist’s grandfather having been briefly involved in the hapless chase to hunt down the Gang before their demise at Glenrowan in 1880.

In her incisive recent biography on the artist,2 Nancy Underhill develops a persuasive argument concerning Nolan’s portrait paintings, that there is strong stylistic link which joins these faces to similar images of Burke and Wills, members of the Heide circle, and the extended series of Gallipoli soldiers. In his youth, Nolan worked for Fayrefield Hat Factory in Abbotsford under the commercial artist Vernon Jones who had his young apprentice assist him on a variety of advertising projects featuring head shots of models (wearing Fayrefield hats) set against painted backgrounds. Intriguingly, Jones had himself worked on an early Ned Kelly film in 1924 and was later employed as a cinema manager. The influence of film in Nolan’s work has been noted before, particularly his love of Walt Disney, and the entire Kelly cycle operates like a storyboard prepared for an animated feature. However, it is important to acknowledge Nolan’s scattered magpie approach to ideas and inspiration. ‘Like all Nolan’s creativity, the Kelly project was interspersed by other interests … (his) fascination with documentary and Surrealist photography … blossomed as a strong resource for the Kellys. For example, many of the blocky, outsized heads … are zoom-in transpositions from carte de viste photographs of the Kelly Gang attributed to Charles Nettleton.’3 In a similar manner, Nolan manipulated portraits of other players in the saga and it is highly plausible that Police Trooper is based on a photograph of Constable Thomas Lonigan, the first policeman killed by the gang at Stringybark Creek. In the most commonly reproduced image of him, Lonigan wears the distinctive white helmet that Nolan abstracts in his painting.

1. Ned Kelly, 1879, quoted in: McDermott, A. (ed.), Ned Kelly: The Jerilderie letter, Text, Melbourne, 2001, p. 63
2. Underhill, N., Sidney Nolan: A Life, Newsouth, Sydney, 2015
3. ibid, pp.166 – 167