“Sidney Nolan: the Gallipoli series constitutes apersonal and public interpretation of acampaign that cost so many Australian lives,”Acting Director of the UQ Art MuseumMichele Helmrich said.Nolan donated this collection to the Memorialin 1978 in memory of his soldier brother, whodied in a tragic accident just before the end ofthe Second World War.Famed for his Ned Kelly paintings, we had thepleasure of working with Sidney Nolan’s lesserknown, but equally important, Gallipoli seriesheld by the Australian War Memorial.For the exhibition identity we featured four ofNolan’s most striking portraits of soldiers withgraphics and typography chosen to convey areverence and a level of refinement befittingworks of such significance. Poignant quotes bySidney Nolan were used throughout theexhibition to voice Nolan’s personal and publiclament on Gallipoli. The colour palette wasdrawn from those predominant in the works –the dark red and brown of the battlefield andthe soldier’s uniforms and the deep blue ofthe sea.
Sidney Nolan (1917–1992) was one of Australia’s most complex,innovative, and prolific artists. In 1978 Nolan presented theGallipoli series to the Australian War Memorial. These 252drawings and paintings, completed over a 20-year period, weredonated in memory of his brother Raymond, a soldier who died ina tragic accident just before the end of the Second World War.Gallipoli was a theme to which Nolan constantly returnedthroughout his artistic career.Sidney Nolan: the Gallipoli seriesshowcases a selection of these works, which constitute both apersonal and public lament, commemorating not just the death ofNolan’s brother but a campaign that had cost so many Australianlives. The exhibition offers a rare opportunity for visitors toexperience these striking and iconic works.
One of Australias most innovative and prolific artists, Nolan was born two years after the Gallipoli landing on25 April 1915, and said the events of the First World War permeated his life as he grew up in the suburbs ofMelbourne. It was not until he was living on the Greek island of Hydra in the mid-1950s, however, that hestarted to explore the idea of a series of works with a military and heroic theme.He made a one-day visit to Gallipoli and was profoundly moved by the place that had seen so much bloodshed.Sidney Nolan: Explanation of Gallipoli Series
OriginsIn 1955 Nolan and his wife, Cynthia, moved to the Greek island of Hydra at the invitation of George Johnstonand Charmian Clift. Inspired by his reading of Robert Graves’s The Greek myths, and Homer’s Iliad, Nolan beganwork on a Trojan War series. At Johnston’s urging, he read Alan Moorehead’s New Yorker article whichdiscussed the geographical proximity of Gallipoli and Troy and the similarities between these two famouscampaigns. As it happened, Moorehead was then also living nearby, on the island of Spetsae, completing whatwould become his best-selling book on the Gallipoli campaign.
Meanwhile, Nolan’s own research had led him to the archaeological museum in Athens, where he becamefascinated by classical sculpture and the depiction of ancient Greek warriors on vases. Around this time he alsobriefly visited Gallipoli and the site of ancient Troy.Little wonder that Nolan soon began to explore the connections between Troy and Gallipoli in his art.
Identification disk (1957)Gallipoli male figure in striding pose,identity disc around neck, left legmissing and replaced with angled prop,representation of rifle in figures lefthand. Nolan stated that the stump legderives from an antique statue whichhe saw supported by a prop in amuseum in Delphi or Athens (frominterview 13 April 1978).As a child Nolan saw these men whoreturned from the First World War withmissing limbs and these statues ofnaked Greek heroes with their missinglimbs would have bore a greatresemblance. The upside down rifle isalso a direct quotation from the NedKelly paintings.
Gallipoli riders (c.1961)Two Gallipoli soldiers on horseback, one with rifle. They appear to resemble Greek warriors goinginto battle holding a spear. At this time Nolan was again interested in Troy and was painting TrojanWar scenes until 1962. In an interview on 13 April 1978, Nolan stated that the work relates to theHomeric struggle, especially the horse, as the Homeric heroes were horse breakers.
Gallipoli landscape withrecumbent Greek figure(c.1956)Gallipoli landscape with recumbentGreek figure on a piece of Greekarchitecture over blue sea with cliffs inbackground. Nolan is here overtlyplaying off the themes oaf the TrojanWar and the Anzac story.
Australian IdentityNolan’s Gallipoli portraits represent an attempt to define theAustralian national character. They provide timeless images of theANZACs: the young and the old, the innocent and the war-weary, thebushman and the city-dweller.Nolan’s early portraits in the Gallipoli series, such as Kenneth andSoldier, Arthur Boyd, are of imposing figures. In their slouch hatsand emu plumes, these men give off a sense of bravado. A degree ofoptimism about the war and its outcome can be in their faces,drawn in bold washes of brown and green. In contrast, the laterportraits were painted in lurid colours which accentuated thetrauma of battle. These young soldiers have distorted faces, theireyes shaded or blood-shot, and they are disengaged and distant.The portraits chart Nolan’s 20-year struggle to create a visuallanguage with which to express the Gallipoli tragedy. Even in 1978he still talked about painting more images as he felt he had notthoroughly explored this momentous event in Australia’s history.Instead, other ventures and travels drew him away and he neverreturned to the Gallipoli story.
Kenneth (1958)Portrait of soldier wearing plumed hatand tunic, thought to bear aresemblance to Nolans friend Kennethvon Bibra who was killed in Syria in theSecond World War.
Gallipoli soldier (1961)Head of a Gallipoli soldier in blue andyellow wearing a hat.
Head of a Gallipoli soldier(1961)Portrait of a Gallipoli soldier. Nolan wasvery interested in Australian types andfaces and he wanted to show thatthese bushmen and city lads had beenisolated at Gallipoli with all theirexuberance, youth and innocence, tobe confronted with the horrors of war.It relates to Nolans concept of thehero as part of the Australian andancient Greek ideal.
Head of a Gallipoli Soldier(c.1961)Head of a Gallipoli soldier in green,wearing a hat. This portrait very muchrelates to Nolans idea of Australianbush mythology and could easily fit inwith the Burke and Wills series.Nolan was very interested in Australianarchetypes and faces and he wanted toshow that these bushmen and city ladshad been isolated at Gallipoli with alltheir exuberance, youth and innocence,to be confronted with the horrors ofwar. It relates to Nolans concept of thehero as part of the Australian andancient Greek ideal.
Young soldierHead of Gallipoli soldier with bloodshoteyes. The bright colour of thebackground belie the portrait of thesoldier. He appears to be in a state ofshell-shock. It is reminiscent of his Headof a soldier, 1942, in the collection ofthe National Gallery of Australia, whichrepresents Nolans reaction to theSecond World War as lunacy.When Nolan returned to the Gallipoliseries in 1977 the portrait types ofsoldiers had lost their spark ofinnocence and somehow felt tarnished.Time had caught up with theirinnocence and Australias anddisenchantment had set in. Theyappeared corrupted by what they hadexperienced and seen at Gallipoli.
Head of a Gallipoli soldierHead of a Gallipoli soldier with whiteface wearing a slouch hat on greenbackground. The bright colour of thebackground belie the portrait of thesoldier. His face is pale and eyes hollow,he appears to be in a state of shell-shock.
Head of Gallipoli soldier in pinkand goldHead of Gallipoli soldier wearing hat;pink background at right; gold at left.The bright almost neon colours of thebackground belie the portrait of thesoldier. He appears to be masked whichcould be hiding his innocence andshame.
Head of Gallipoli soldiersalutingHead of Gallipoli soldier saluting, withgreen background.
The LandscapeThe paintings in Nolan’s Gallipoli series depict landscapes that area fusion of both the real and the imaginary. The landscape thatNolan would have seen when he visited Gallipoli was dominated byan impenetrable growth of thorny shrubs, similar to what visitorscan see today. Then and now, the dry escarpments above ANZAC Coveare much as they were in 1915, and from Chunuk Bair, the undulatingridges and gullies unfold themselves. But Nolan’s landscapes arealso poetic evocations, a lament for a place where so many liveswere lost.Nolan’s passion for landscape painting had begun during hismilitary service in Western Victoria. There the endless blue skyand the rolling wheat fields provided him with a new artisticgenre to explore and new forms to develop.His interpretive approach to landscape continued to evolve whileworking on the Gallipoli series. His discovery of a German textiledye allowed him to experiment and create barren and scarredlandscapes on 12 x 10-inch coated art paper. Sheet after sheetwould be covered using textile dyes and wax crayons. Often thenature of the materials themselves would lead to a change ofstyle and technique.
Gallipoli landscape II (1957)Gallipoli landscape II (1957) by SidneyNolan. Drawing of Gallipoli landscapewith steep cliffs in brown and pink, andblue sea and a reflection of the cliffs inthe water.It is one of the earliest Gallipolilandscapes in the series.
Gallipoli landscape (c.1960)Gallipoli landscape with hills and cliffs.The landscape is quite dark with agrey/brown mass in the foregroundand a mottled expanse of dark brownwith white highlights patterned by thetop of a brush in the middle ground.In the distance there are overlappinggrey and green hills with a green skyapplied with horizontal strokes andbroken on the horizon by strokes ofyellow and white crayon. Nolan gives asense of lament and sadness in anempty landscape that has witnessedthe horrors of war.
Gallipoli landscape VIII (1961)Gallipoli landscape in green. Thetechnique Nolan has used to scrapeback the paint surface evokes a senseof an arid , unforgiving landscape.The sky is streaked with white crayonwhich resembles explosions and smokein the murky sky.
Gallipoli landscape (c.1960)Dramatic Gallipoli landscape of shaggy cliffs in pink, brown and green, meeting a blue sky streakedwith pink strokes of crayon.The work was presented in memory of the artists brother Raymond who drowned in 1945 onreturning from military service at the end of the Second World. War.
BattleNolan’s reading of classical Greek literature inspired his depictionof Australian soldiers as “reincarnations of the ancient Trojanheroes of mythical times”. His paintings and drawings of theAustralians on Gallipoli recall the images of Greek heroes, whoare shown fighting naked and without their armour on vases of theclassical period.Inspired by these powerful, physical figures, Nolan depicts themodern soldier as someone caught up in a bloody and violent war.Artillery fire became a deadly part of the ANZACs’ daily lives onGallipoli. But Nolan saw a terrible beauty in the bursting shells;he depicts them as figures that slide across the surface of thepaper in almost balletic formations.
Gallipoli figures in battle I (1962) Group of Gallipoli figures in combat, half immersed in the sea water. The work refers to links between Anzacs and classical figures; for example, Heracles and Antaeus, wrestling giants, or Homeric heroes in battle. The soldiers wrestling also relates to black figure pottery of the 7th century BC. Black figure pottery usually represented the Gods or the heroes of Greek history and mythology engaged in scenes of battle and hunting.When the Anzacs arrived at Gallipoli, many British officers were awestruck when faced with the tall,bronzed Anzacs that reminded them of the Greek heroes and gods. Much was written by the Britishofficers and soldiers about this resemblance at the time.The Australians discarded much of their uniform, often only wearing boots, shorts and hat whengoing into battle.
Gallipoli figures in shell-burst (C.1962)Two Gallipoli figures amidst explosion.
Gallipoli soldier in red amidexplosion (1961)Gallipoli soldier in red amidstexplosion.The artist stated (interview 13 April1978) that this work represents ashattered body.
Gallipoli figures in battle amidshell-fire (1962)Two naked Gallipoli figures in combatamidst shell fire. The figures are partlyimmersed in the sea. These refer tolinks between Anzacs and classicalfigures, for example Heracles andAntaeus, wrestling with giants, orHomeric heroes in battle. The soldierswrestling also relates to black figurepottery of the 7th century BC. Blackfigure pottery usually represented theGods or the heroes of Greek historyand mythology engaged in scenes ofbattle and hunting. When the Anzacsarrived at Gallipoli, many Britishofficers were awestruck when facedwith the tall, bronzed Anzacs thatreminded them of the Greek heroesand gods. Much was written by theBritish officers and soldiers about thisresemblance at the time.
The SeaNolan’s images were often inspired by the photographs that heknew from The ANZAC book, and those he viewed at the ImperialWar Museum in London. Many of the photographs depicted soldiersbathing, or working and relaxing in and around the shore.A sense of the sea pervades the campaign, whose very goal was toseize control of the Dardanelles, the narrow stretch of waterthat separated Gallipoli and Troy. The Australians who clamberedashore on 25 April 1915 at what came to be known as ANZAC Covewould sometimes return to swim in its waters. To escape thegrime, the filth, and the vermin of the trenches, they were willingto brave the Turkish shrapnel that occasionally spattered thebeach.Many of Nolan’s ideas about war and death came together in theGallipolidiptych, a major work whose water imagery alludes tothe risk of drowning. When the painting was exhibited, one criticpraised the work for showing how “flesh and blood soldiers, thereal overlapping the mythical, the strong holding the weak, sinkor swim towards inevitable destruction”.
Drowned soldier at Anzac as Icarus (1958) Cliffs along coastline, with drowned body floating in the sea. The body has a red cross on torso a symbol of the military medical service. With this image Nolan has used a number of references. On the surface it represents the soldiers that drowned on the first morning at Gallipoli. It is also a reference to the photo in the Anzac Book of General Birdwood swimming at Gallipoli. In 1945 Nolans brother Raymond drowned at Cooktown whilst waiting to be demobilized from the army after serving for almost three years in New Guinea.This is the most personal reference in this work and was often repeated in his other drowned soldiersat Gallipoli works. The most prominent reference is to Icarus, a character from Greek mythology. Icarusfather, Daedalus, attempted to escape from his exile in Crete, where he and his son were imprisoned atthe hands of King Minos, the king for whom he had built the Labyrinth to imprison the Minotaur.Daedalus fashioned a pair of wings of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Before they took offfrom the island, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea.Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky, but came too close tothe sun, which melted the wax. Icarus fell into the sea in the area which bears his name, the Icarian Seanear Icaria, an island southwest of Samos. Nolan was here alluding to the heroic audacity of theAustralian soldiers at Gallipoli on that first day yet using Icarus to symbolise the lost hopes, dreams andambitions of the young Australian men.
Drowned Gallipoli soldier(1958)Figure of drowned Gallipoli soldier,body and head separated. The image ofthe drowned figure in the Gallipoliseries has two sources.Its initial reference is to that of theAnzacs who drowned on that firstmorning at Gallipoli as they landed onthe beach. The submerged drownedfigure and Nolans use of red, blue andbrown/green merging togethersuggests stagnant blood-stained water,a sight that would have confronted thesurviving soldiers that day on thebeach.The drowned lifeless floating figure alsorelates to the drowning in 1945 ofNolans brother Raymond which hestated in an interview (13 April 1978).
[Figure in landscape] (1957)Gallipoli landscape with cliffs withfigure with outstretched arms inforeground.The figure appears to be falling ordrowning and Nolan has smudged thepaint with his fingers to reveal thefigure.The work was used as an illustration fora book of poems by Randolph Stowalong with other similar works byNolan (interview 13 April 1978).
Themes and influencesMs Wilkins says the exhibition is divided into themes including landscape, battle, the sea andAustralian identity."You start off with origins - so that deals with very much where he starts developing his interestand where his information comes from," she said."Theres also a theme on battle and that looks at soldiers fighting. He got the idea for [the imagery]from looking at Greek vases which showed the Greek soldiers fighting in hand-to-hand combat."Theres also the sea and that looks at the drownings but also the lighter side where the soldierstried to sort of bathe.“Ms Wilkins says the works vary greatly in style and size and evidence of Nolans other works canalso be seen in some of the paintings."Nolan is really well known for Ned Kelly and Burke and Wills and Eliza Fraser, and particularlywhen you look at some of the portraits you feel like some of the personalities in the portraits couldalmost be out of Burke and Wills or Eliza Fraser or those other works that hes done in the past,"she said."Theyre overlapping. Because, of course, when Nolan does the series over a 20-year period its notthe only thing hes painting. Hes doing other things as well. Hes travelling around the world andhaving lots of other experiences."He always painted and drew in bursts, so he had frenetic periods that could last for weeks andthen he wouldnt do anything for three months.“Research Site 1: Research Site 2:
Background painting:Gallipoli LandscapeArtist: Sir Sidney NolanOne of Australias most innovative and prolific artists, Nolan was born two years after the Gallipolilanding on 25 April 1915, and said the events of the First World War permeated his life as he grewup in the suburbs of Melbourne.It was not until he was living on the Greek island of Hydra in the mid-1950s, however, that hestarted to explore the idea of a series of works with a military and heroic theme.He made a one-day visit to Gallipoli and was profoundly moved by the place that had seen somuch bloodshed.Sidney Nolan Exhibition Assembled: A. Ballas