Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 August 2013


(1917 - 1992)

Ripolin enamel on composition board

91.0 x 60.5 cm

signed with initial and dated lower right: 15-4-48 / N
bears inscription verso: LORD McALPINE'S / PERSONAL COLLECTION

$200,000 - 300,000

Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne
Lord McAlpine of West Green, United Kingdom, November 1986
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, a gift from the above in 1995 (label attached verso)
Sotheby's, Sydney, 26 November 2007, lot 28
Private collection, Perth


Morse, J., 'The Short Sighted Explorer', Link, April 1999, pp. 16–17

Catalogue text

The Ned Kelly in Sidney Nolan came from his Irish descent. He also had the urge of explorers in his genes - paintings of Central Australia, Africa and the Antarctic all witness his wunderlust, seeking the earth's wonders to paint. Identification with explorers came early in his art, both in his explorative approach and in subject. From the epic Ned Kelly series of 1946-47, Nolan turned to that of Burke and Wills, his Sturt on the River Bank, 1948 being painted as a prologue in which the artist identifies his own actions with those of another great Australian explorer. When Nolan sold the painting in the 1980s he said it was the first he had painted after he had fled Heide for Sydney and the north. The figure was based on Nolan himself. The scene is believed to be on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, Nolan's Rubicon that he is about to cross into a new land and life. It was later that the painting acquired the Sturt identification, both meanings being plausible within the interweaving, touched with a little mythologizing.

The figure towers over the landscape, the trees at his feet as mere twigs, distance giving the farm its own smallness of scale. The landscape is vast, the river endless, with the artist-explorer depicted as its conqueror. Charles Sturt was a leading figure in Australian inland exploration, searching the rivers in their westward flow, looking for the fabled inland sea. The journey down the Murrumbidgee in 1829 led to the mighty River Murray, its junction with the Darling and on to Lake Alexandrina, reached in the summer heat of 1830. Rowing against the current on the return journey was an epic of endurance in itself. In the allied subject of a self-portrait, the artist is also seen as hero. Cutting himself off from his Melbourne associations, he ventured forth in search of new lands to paint. The river theme continued in On the Murray, 1948 (University of Western Australia, Perth), accompanied by other brilliant paintings from 1948 such as Little Dog Mine, 1948 (once in the collection of Kenneth Lord Clark and now the Holmes à Court Collection, Perth), and Pretty Polly Mine (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney). The moon-like landscapes of the centre beckoned as Nolan painted Central Australia, 1949 (once in Camille Gheysens's collection), and Inland Australia, 1950 (Tate Gallery, London). The mythic Sturt-Nolan figure strides the land. The nomadic existence to follow filled his imagination and flowed into his paintings, introducing Australian and international audiences to the extraordinary, unique beauty that is our country.