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Self portrait, 1988

Sidney Nolan

oil on composition board (frame: 135.0 cm x 104.5 cm, support: 121.5 cm x 91.5 cm)

Sir Sidney Nolan AC OM CBE (1917-1992) was the most original and inventive Australian artist of the postwar decades, and was one of the few Australian artists to have achieved an international reputation in the twentieth century. Beginning his career as a commercial artist in the 1930s, he mounted his first solo exhibition in 1940. After having served as an army storeman in the Wimmera, he became associated with the modernist art patrons John and Sunday Reed at Heide, Victoria. At Heide between 1945 and 1947 he made the enormously complex series of paintings of Ned Kelly for which he is best known. From 1950 Nolan lived abroad, but returned to Australia at regular intervals. He continued to explore Australian themes and landscapes in paintings of Burke and Wills, Eliza Fraser, Gallipoli and the Eureka rebellion, and in his huge masterpiece Riverbend (1965). A major retrospective of Nolan’s work, Sidney Nolan – A New Retrospective, held at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2007, brought together more than 100 of his works. Nolan painted a number of self portraits, beginning early in his career. The merged inky blues, pinks and subtle greys of this example are characteristic of the artist’s late style. While there is a trace of a satisfied smile, the face is elusive, hazy, veiled, with the head apparently oscillating between profile and three-quarter view. Ultimately, the painting is ambiguous, seeming, like all Nolan’s self portraits, to allude simultaneously to his public persona, and his internal imagination – to both the mask, and the inner poetry of the artist.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Hon RL Hunter QC 2006
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2006.3

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Sidney Nolan (age 71 in 1988)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

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