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Transferences: Sidney Nolan in Britain

[ Exhibition )

Abstracted portrait of a man wearing round glasses. Superimposed over his face and body is the outline of a square head with a narrow visor across his eyes.

Sidney Nolan, Myself, 1988, oil and spray paint on hardboard, 122 x 91.5cm, Sidney Nolan Trust © Sidney Nolan Trust

This major exhibition marked the centenary of the birth of Australian artist Sir Sidney Nolan (1917–1992), an international and experimental figure who created a diverse body of work.

This exhibition was part of a nationwide programme presented by the Sidney Nolan Trust. It brought together his works to demonstrate recurring themes of Australian history, literature, mythology and the idea of the tragic hero.

Born in Melbourne, Nolan made Britain his permanent home in 1953. Within a decade, he had established himself as a pivotal figure in the British art world. This exhibition focused on the diverse body of work he created while living here. He worked with various materials and experimented with new techniques throughout his life.

Highlights of the exhibition included Nolan’s iconic paintings depicting lone, doomed figures amidst landscapes. He explored the themes of British colonial history and the nature of heroism through infamous figures like Ned Kelly. His Irish roots attracted him to Kelly, the anti-hero of the Irish working class. Nolan’s own grandfather had been a policeman involved in the hunt for the elusive bushman, and as a result, his somewhat naïve but powerful renditions of Kelly became more complex when he rekindled the subject in England.

Music was important to Nolan and his creative process. Stravinsky’s infamous ‘The Rite of Spring’ was Nolan’s first foray into set design for the Royal Ballet; displayed here alongside his costumes from Kenneth Macmillan’s 1962 production. Nolan’s tribal themed interpretation was a triumph, set in the Australian Outback. It remains the definitive version of the ballet today.

This exhibition was curated by Rebecca Daniels with Simon Martin. An illustrated catalogue published by Pallant House Gallery and the Sidney Nolan Trust accompanied the exhibition. Available to buy from Pallant Bookshop.

What the press said

Clever and thought-provoking. Transferences reminds us of Nolan’s involvement with British art, and of his immense power as a maker of memorable images.

Alastair Sooke, The Daily Telegraph

Very moving. When you go round this show, you realise just how impressive [Sidney Nolan] actually is. [It is].…haunting and melancholy.

Richard Cork, BBC Radio 4 Front Row

What an eye-opener.…he went on to paint large works of desert and nature, desolateness that really do take your breath away…Any description falls flat, so I won’t even try. Just visit and drink in the power of Nolan’s take on nature.

John Bird, The Big Issue

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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