Kirk Douglas's favourite Sidney Nolan painting an Australian auction highlight

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 13th June, 2024

Always seen as one of Australia’s leading modern 20th century artists, Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) became a household name through his stunning depictions of infamous outlaw and bushranger Ned Kelly who, dressed in his legendary iron suit of armour for a shootout with Victorian police at Glenrowan, was hanged aged 25 on November 11, 1880 at Old Melbourne Gaol.

So highly regarded are his paintings that one – Ned Kelly and Swamp 1960 – finished up in the comprehensive collection of famed American actor Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne, credited with building an impressive array of modern art paintings.

With a catalogue estimate of $500,000-$700,000, the painting is the highlight and lot 32 of Menzies forthcoming Melbourne auction of important Australian and international art from 6.30pm Wednesday June 26 at 1 Darling Street, South Yarra.

In April 1981, Douglas met Nolan in Melbourne at Australian Galleries and later that month he and his wife discreetly acquired the art work.

Even after the couple began collecting contemporary works and disposed of their modernist paintings, Ned Kelly and the Swamp remained a treasured possession for 30 years until Anne died in 2021.

The Joy of Fish – The Ripple 1994 (lot 33) is another painting bound to attract plenty of attention.

Featuring a naked woman lying diagonally in shallow water with fish swimming around her, the work was painted by Lin Onus (1948-1996), showcasing his signature upside down reflected landscapes.

Onus was born to an indigenous Yorta Yorta father and Scottish mother, becoming one of Australia’s most significant contemporary urban artists and a trailblazer of his craft despite his untimely early death.

Tim Storrier (born 1949) is well known for his outback landscape works featuring glowing embers, leaping flames and brilliant night time skies.

Evening (Nostalgia and Embers) 2001 (lot 34) is no exception and a particularly skilful rendition of what appears to be a carefully lit controlled burn.

Storrier’s Evening Notes (on the Infinite) 2022 (lot 30) is yet another tribute to vast and spectacular blue skies.

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) is another Australian modernist icon, from a family famous for its several generations of creative talent.

Wimmera Landscape with Jinker and Ram c1985 (lot 31), painted in his later years, depicts one of his favourite subjects – Victoria’s northwest wheatbelt.

Boyd first visited the area in 1948-49 and was impressed by its fecundity, fragility, impermanence and occasional hostility. No matter when he decided to paint his Wimmera scenes, from the 1950s to the 1980s, Boyd always wanted to project a feeling of nostalgia for Australia’s pastoral history.

Born in 1960, Cressida Campbell is an Australian artist who has been persistently successful – never illustrated more forcefully than through her 2022 National Gallery of Australia retrospective visited by more than 90,000 people, a record for an Australian woman contemporary painter.

Her woodblock print Michael Hobbs’ View 1985 (lot 29) is typical of Campbell’s complex, engaging pictures – showing a view of Sydney’s Lavender Bay from the stockbroker’s window.

No auction would be complete without a painting from iconic indigenous artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye (c1910-1996) and Wild Orange 1991 (lot 28) is a classic, featuring a scene from her home region of Utopia on the edge of the Simpson Desert.

Famous still life painter Margaret Olley (1923-2011) is another auction presence with her Epergne of Apples 1982 (lot 26), while composite material wizard Rosalie Gascoigne (1917-1999) makes her presence felt with Bread and Butter 1994 (lot 27) along with Charles Blackman’s eye catching Blue Nude 1989 (lot 37).




Menzies Gallery

12 Todman Avenue, Kensington


Thursday June 13 to Sunday June 16

Sunday June 16 1pm to 5pm


Menzies Gallery

1 Darling Street, South Yarra


Thursday June 20 to Tuesday June 25

Sunday June 23 1pm to 5pm

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