Important Australian + International Fine Art
17 November 2010

John Olsen

born 1928

watercolour and pastel on paper

triptych: 188.5 x 91.0 cm each

signed, dated and inscribed lower right: The big sun / & / lilly pond / John / Olsen / 86

$140,000-180,000 (3)
Sold for $156,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 18 - 17 November 2010, Sydney

Sotheby's, Melbourne, 25 August 1998, lot 38
Company collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

John Olsen's art pulsates with life, his lily ponds and liquid suns being ideally suited to watercolour, a particularly atmospherically-inclined medium. The joyous impact of The Big Sun and Lily Pond, 1986 lies very much in this happy combination- in addition, of course, to its size. Olsen is big of personality and so are his works, both being full of exuberance. In this and other works, the sun, as the proverbial source of life, can also be read as a metaphor of the artist, larger than life and full of energy. Neither artist nor his work can be ignored, and the engagement is immensely rewarding. The sun in The Big Sun and Lily Pond is like an octopus, its tentacles of light reaching out and embracing the viewer. It is a significant recurring image in Olsen's work, seen in the 1987 tapestry, Rising Sun made at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop for a private collector, and again, of Light Playing with Evolution, the 1989 tapestry in the University of Melbourne collection. Painted at Clarendon in South Australia, the awareness of the sun in his works of those years is strong. Golden Summer, Clarendon, 1983 in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, is one of the finest, and Clarendon Spring, Make Sure the Sun Wipes its Feet, 1984, in the Broken Hill City Art Gallery, adds painterly humour derived from Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood.

In The Big Sun and Lily Pond Olsen marries his sun images with those of the lily pond, also teeming with life, cleverly engaging the warm colours of the heavens with the lush green-blues of the pond. The fertile, sinuous green growth and amoebic busyness has its counterpart in the round sun and its extending rays, spots and dots shared by both spheres. Paintings of ponds and frogs form another important stream in Olsen's art, as found in the 1994 watercolour and pastel, Wet Season, and the more recent panorama in oils, Tropical Lily Pond, 2006, included in the artist's solo exhibition in Melbourne in that same year.1 In our watercolour, the heavens and the waters unite with an engaging green frog approaching an equally responsive orange sun. Like the sun, the frog also has a metaphoric association with the artist, a bubbly personality happy in his pond life. To complete this beguiling work, Olsen adds his mastery of atmosphere - that sense of dryness of the sky in fertile communion with the wet dampness of the waters and the energy of life released.

1. See Deutscher and Hackett, September 2010, lot 13