Carlton, Victoria, Australia 1917 – London, England 1992
Ned Kelly writing his will (1946-47) Materials & Technique: paintings, enamel paint on composition board
Sidney Nolan’s 1946–47 series of paintings on the theme of the nineteenth-century bushranger Ned Kelly is one of the greatest sequences of Australian painting of the twentieth century. Nolan’s starkly simplified depiction of Kelly in his homemade armour has become an iconic Australian image.
Nolan’s paintings take us through the main events of the story of Ned Kelly and his gang, from the shooting of police constables at Stringybark Creek to the siege at Glenrowan and ending with the trial at which Kelly was sentenced to hang. However, Nolan did not intend his paintings to be a literal depiction of the events. Rather, they are the setting for the artist’s meditations on the universal themes of violence, injustice, love and betrayal. Above all, the Kelly saga was a way for Nolan to paint the Australian landscape; he believed that it was ‘a story arising out of the bush and ending in the bush’.
Twenty-five of the twenty-seven paintings in Nolan’s first exhibited Kelly series were given to the National Gallery of Australia in 1977 by Sunday Reed. The series was painted while Nolan was living with Sunday and her husband John Reed at Heide in Heidelberg, Victoria.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra