Sir Sidney Nolan's estate gems

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 12th August, 2013

Art lovers will be presented this week with a once in a lifetime opportunity when Bonhams offers a group of early works from Sir Sidney Nolan’s estate for auction.

The auction, from 6.30pm Tuesday at Ormond Hall 557 St Kilda Road Melbourne, features works Nolan painted between 1937 and 1964.

According to Bonhams chairman Mark Fraser, art lovers until now have mainly only been able to collect works Nolan produced in the latter half of his career, up until his death in 1992.

“At the time, he and many of his contemporaries were being encouraged by John and Sunday Reed who owned the property Heide (a former dairy farm and later to become the Heide Museum of Modern Art) at Bulleen,” Mr Fraser said.

Sunday Reed was born Lelda Sunday Baillieu, a niece of William Baillieu – one of Australia’s richest men – and aunt to the former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu. In 1932, she married John Reed and two years later they purchased the farm on the Yarra River floodplain.

The Heide Circle – that included such famous modern artists as Albert Tucker and his wife Joy Hester, John Perceval, Laurence Hope, Sam Atyeo and his wife Moya Dyring – became well known for the intertwined personal and professional lives of the people involved, with Sunday conducting affairs (with her husband’s knowledge) with several of the painters who lived and worked there. 

Nolan was one of these and many of the works to feature in the Bonhams auction were completed during this period. However, when Nolan departed Heide in emotionally charged circumstances following a falling out with Sunday Reed, he left many of his paintings behind – including the famous 27 Ned Kelly works of 1946-47 that now reside in the National Gallery of Australia.

One of the major features of this auction is an impressive tapestry (four metres wide by three metres high) of the 1946 work Constable Fitzpatrick and Kate Kelly, which carries a $50,000 to $80,000 estimate.

“This is one of the 64 Nolan works on offer and the auction goes into great depth about his early dramatic (many of them abstract) works,” Mark Fraser said.

“However, what is significant about this sale is that prices start from an $800 estimate (for a work that is part of a National Gallery of Victoria exhibition) to a maximum of $80,000 and all the paintings are of museum quality.”

These figures are particularly significant when seen in the context of the record (for an Australian artist)  $5.4 million paid for one of Nolan’s 1946 paintings.

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