Sidney Nolan’s Greek Series Featured in Upcoming Australian Art Auction

Thirty works from Sidney Nolan’s famous Greek series are being auctioned by international auction house Bonhams as part of the Significant Australian Art allotment in Sydney.

Lured by the idea of ​​exploring the mythology of the Trojan War, in 1955 renowned Australian artist, Sidney Nolan and his wife Cynthia traveled to Greece from their home in London, where they stayed with friends and fellow Australians George Johnston and Charmian Clift on the tiny island of Hydra.

The couple were so delighted with what they encountered that they decided to stay for five months, moving into the 17th century mansion owned by famous artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas.

In this fortress-like villa, set above a rocky promontory with beautiful views, a terraced garden of cacti, almond trees, goats and wildflowers, Nolan would go on to create his famous Greek series. The rugged aesthetic of the island and its people come to life in his beautiful works, along with the mythological heroes and ancient battles the artist was immersed in at the time, while studying the Iliad of Homer and Robert Graves’ newly published book at the time. , Greek Myths.

Nolan’s stay in Greece was one of the most influential periods of his life. According to Colin MacInnes, author of the 1961 monograph on Nolan, Greece was Nolan’s “true European home”. In addition to the paintings made in Greece which are offered in this auction, it was the genesis of two important series, Gallipoli and Leda and the Swan.

Australian artist Sidney Nolan. Photo: AAP/Sidney Nolan Trust

In Hydra he combined his inspirations from travel, literature and poetry, creating a frieze-like sequence of terracotta oil paintings depicting Trojan War warriors in battle. Over time, Nolan added motifs of Theseus and the Minotaur, Icarus, ancient theater masks and portraits of helmeted Homeric heroes, and even images of contemporary Greek island life with an Orthodox priest in sunglasses, prickly pears and goats, perched villages. , and boats in the harbor.

From Hydra, the artist visited Mykonos, Delos, Santorini, Crete and the Peloponnese. MacInnes wrote that in Greece “Nolan had found a familiar land, rich in myths, which he tried to understand pictorially in order to create myths for his own people. The feeling of these Greek paintings is pre-classical, but the forms are those which he, like all European artists, inherited from classical Greece: it is the mood of a civilization, expressed in the forms of the ‘other.

The works on offer have all remained with Nolan in his personal collection until recent exhibitions with the Hellenic Museum in Melbourne and the Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Victoria.

The Bonhams auction will take place on November 29, 2022.

Greek Island, Goat and Cactus, 1956. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.
Greek Figures and Column, 1955. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.
Minotaur, 1956. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.

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