Sir Sidney Robert Nolan OM AC CBE RA (1917 –1992) was one of Australia’s leading artists of the 20th century. Working in a wide variety of mediums, his oeuvre is among the most diverse and prolific in all of modern art. He is best known for his series of paintings on legends from Australian history, most famously Ned Kelly. Nolan’s stylised depiction of Kelly’s armour has become an icon of Australian art.
Nolan never relied upon one style or technique, but rather experimented throughout his lifetime with many different methods of application, and also devised some of his own. This work is an example of wax crayon rubbing. Nolan was inspired by children’s art and modernist painting of the early 20th century. During this time many younger artists were veering towards abstraction, Nolan remained committed to the figurative potential of painting. In terms of art history Nolan rediscovered the Australian landscape.
In his Ned Kelly series, Kelly is a metaphor for Nolan himself. Nolan, like the bushranger, was a fugitive from the law. In July 1944, facing the possibility that he would be sent to Papua New Guinea on front-line duty, Nolan went absent without leave. He adopted the alias Robin Murray, a name suggested by Sunday Reed, whose affectionate nickname for him was “Robin Redbreast”. So when he created this series he viewed himself as the misunderstood hero/artist like the protagonist, Kelly.