Important Fine Art + Aboriginal Art
2 December 2015


(1917 – 1992)

enamel on card

25.0 x 27.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: 29.10.42 / Nolan

$30,000 – 40,000
Sold for $51,240 (inc. BP) in Auction 41 - 2 December 2015, Sydney

Lady Nolan, United Kingdom
Private collection, Melbourne


Sidney Nolan: A Magnificent Obsession, Maroondah Art Gallery, 3 April 2009 - 2 May 2009 (illus. in exhibition catalogue and on cover, unpaginated)

Catalogue text

In the painting On the Beach, Nolan has placed a stylised figure before a sweeping vista of Port Phillip Bay, while along the shoreline flagpoles punctuate the scene. Like many of his works from this period each pole carries the French tricolour. This private allusion to the symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud is indicative of the artist’s preoccupations with the vivid imagery conjured in the poet’s verse. In common with the juxtapositions achieved in the work of Rimbaud, the unlikely formulation of an abstracted figure set before a pictorial landscape can be seen as a precursor to Nolan’s later Kelly paintings.

In the lower right hand corner the artist has boldly inscribed the date: 29.10.42, a period when Nolan was stationed as an army guard in the town of Dimboola, located in the Wimmera district of north-western Victoria. Within a week of completing ‘On the beach’ Nolan wrote to his then patron Sunday Reed regarding the focus of his recent painting. In a letter dated 8 November 1942, Nolan discussed his fascination with the human figure, commenting: ‘things happen when you put a figure in a landscape or by the sea, that the body could be archaic or nostalgic or as the Greeks showed it could be beautiful but hardly ever as it is.’1

As an image painted from memory On the Beach was executed during one of the most significant periods of the artist’s career, the results of which crystallised into a new vision of the Australian landscape. Confirming the importance of Nolan’s new paintings, in 1943 his fellow artist Albert Tucker commented: ‘His long immersion in radical modernism, prolific with magnificent trivialities, has paid dividends in the development of an individual perception of a very high order and in the first time since Roberts, McCubbin and the early Streeton, the return of an authentic national vision on a higher and more independent level.’2

1. Nolan quoted in Underhill, Nancy, Nolan on Nolan: Sidney Nolan in his own words. Penguin, Melbourne, 2007, p. 115
2. Tucker, Albert, Angry Penguins, no. 5, 1943