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Sidney Nolan / Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) Figure and Angel, 1946

Lot 43
Sidney Nolan
Figure and Angel, 1946
23 August 2022, 18:00 AEST

AU$80,000 - AU$120,000

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)

Figure and Angel, 1946
dated within angel upper left: 'feb 46'
oil on board
122.0 x 92.0cm (48 1/16 x 36 1/4in).


Sir Sidney Nolan, United Kingdom, until 1992
Lady Nolan, United Kingdom, until 2016
The Estate of Lady Nolan, United Kingdom

Figure and Angel hung over the mantelpiece at The Rodd, Nolan's home in Britain, for many years. There, Mary Nolan, the artist's widow, sometimes referred to the painting as Saint Joseph of Arimathea, both an unusual title and subject for a work from early 1946. It is curious too that "Saint Joseph", whose hand appears quite masculine, wears a floral-patterned dress. The story of the painting presents us with a mystery only part of which can be told here. The rest lies with a future owner to investigate, should they choose.

First, a chronology is needed to contextualise Figure and Angel which dates to February 1946. Nolan went absent without leave from the army on 20 August 1944 and went into hiding in the loft of a friend's stable in Parkville, Melbourne. He painted his first Kelly painting on 14 March 1945, perhaps equating his own 'outlaw' situation with that of the bushranger. He then resumed painting St Kilda and Parkville subjects. Between early September and mid-November, he returned to Kelly and produced a small group of paintings measuring 63.5 x 76cm1. At the end of 1945 he explored the northern Victorian region where Kelly had been active and immersed himself in books on the subject. In February 1946, now living back at Heide with the Reeds, Nolan painted the present work, Figure and Angel, measuring 122 x 91cm. On 1 March 1946, Nolan, painted Death of Sergeant Kennedy at Stringybark Creek, the earliest dated painting of the iconic Kelly series now in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. It too measures 91 x 122cm, significantly larger than the Kelly works painted the previous year. Nolan completed the series in July 1947. When he left Heide that month, he took no paintings with him.

Examining Figure and Angel it is evident that there are different layers of paint. The figure's hand, dress and staff and the angel's wings are from an earlier painting below the final surface. Turn the painting anticlockwise so it is horizontal and it becomes apparent that Nolan painted over another work making use of the original work to form parts of the new image. What now forms the pattern on the dress was originally a depiction of floral wallpaper, like that in Sunday Reed's bedroom; and in good light, the outline of a bentwood chair can be seen on the left side; and the staff appears to have a metallic sheen, perhaps like that of the barrel of a rifle. Curiously, a collaged rectangle has been painted over in the upper left of the horizontal image. An interesting comparison may be made with one of the best-known Kelly paintings, Constable Fitzpatrick and Kate Kelly, 1946, which is the same size as Figure and Angel and with two smaller, versions of the same subject. All feature the wallpaper and the bentwood chair.2

1 Nolan gave most of these to the Australian people in 1974 and they are now on display at the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery
2 The 1946 Constable Fitzpatrick and Kate Kelly is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; a smaller undated painting, measuring 63.3 x 76cm is in the collection of the National Gallery of victory, Melbourne; and a third, measuring 61 x 91.5cm and dated 1946, is illustrated in Elwyn Lynn and Sidney Nolan, Sidney Nolan – Australia, Bay Books, Sydney, 1979, p. 57

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