Important Australian + International Fine Art
30 April 2014


born 1928

oil on canvas

91.5 x 122.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: JO 65

$40,000 - 60,000
Sold for $60,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 35 - 30 April 2014, Melbourne

Clune Galleries, Sydney
Harold and Connie Slater, Sydney

Private collection, Melbourne, acquired from the above in 1987

Olsen's Sydney Nights was purchased by Harold Slater, September 1965 from Clune Galleries, Sydney.
According to Slater it was the last painting by Olsen before his trip to Portugal - 'the last of those "You Beaut" and harbour paintings that has an attack and panache...'

Catalogue text

John Olsen embraces life with a gusto that is infectious. The hedonistic exuberance that distinguishes his art of this time, flows through such paintings of earthly delights as Half Past Six at the Fitzroy, 1963, in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, and Entrance to the Sea Port of Desire, 1964, in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, on into Sydney Nights, 1965. Bubbling over with enthusiasm, they seduce the eye through their metamorphic imagery, sinuous paint and colour, outlines of landforms and of those who inhabit them interchanging with unstoppable dynamism. Olsen was living in Victoria Street, Potts Point, then the centre of Sydney's thriving young art world. His unrivalled view of the Harbour with its ceaseless change provided constant inspiration for Sydney Nights and the other lively paintings of this series. They are so evocative you can hear the rowdiness of the pubs, feel the good life, and sense the mateship. As if to emphasize the point, Olsen morphed human profiles into headlands, a painterly gesture into a Luna Park. They are paintings supremely redolent of Australia of the sixties. Olsen's star was in brilliant ascendancy, as he focused on city and outback alike, be it the Entrance to the Siren City of the Rat Race or the 'You Beaut Country' series.1 In Sydney Nights and other like paintings, abstractly expressive landscapes of people and places teem with life " arterial lights and flashing signs, everything happening at once in homage to and celebration of the circus of living. Raw colours straight from the tube are set against sonorous deep blues to create celebratory pictorial metaphors of the moment. Only the aerial view can suffice to capture all with a calligraphic and pulsating sweep of paint.

In April of 1965 Olsen held a major exhibition at the Clune Galleries. It included his first tapestry, Joie de Vivre, and two ceiling paintings, Le SoleilĀ and La Primavera. The same year of 1965 saw Rupert Murdoch commission another, King Sun with its burst of life-giving energy. The exhibition was received with great acclaim. Daniel Thomas, writing in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph was tempted to call it 'the show of the year'.2 The Sydney Morning Herald reported 'a new height of achievement for Olsen'; and James Gleeson described his paintings as glowing with 'an uninhibited acceptance of life', paintings that 'sing and shout and exult in the joy of living.' He added, 'He drinks everything in through all his senses.'3 Olsen was on a creative high, producing some of his finest works to which one responds with the same enthusiasm with which they are imbued.

1. Entrance to the Siren City of the Rat Race, 1963, on loan to Macquarie University, Sydney
2. Sunday Telegraph, Sydney, 25 April 1965
3. Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 1965, p. 15; and Gleeson, J., Sun-Herald, Sydney, 25 April 1965, p. 76