Thirty works of Sidney Nolan’s famous Greek series, are being auctioned by international auction house, Bonhams, as part of the Important Australian Art allotment, in Sydney.
Attracted by the idea of exploring the mythology of the Trojan War, in 1955, renowned Australian artist, Sidney Nolan and his wife Cynthia travelled to Greece from their home in London, where they stayed with friends and fellow Australians George Johnston and Charmian Clift on the small island of Hydra.
The couple were so enchanted by what they encountered, that they decided to stay on for five months, moving into the seventeenth century mansion owned by the distinguished artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas.
In this fortress-like villa, set high above a rocky headland with beautiful views, a terraced garden of cacti, almonds, goats, and wildflowers, Nolan would go on to create his famous Greek series. The rugged aesthetic of the island and its inhabitants, come alive in his beautiful works, along with mythological heroes, and ancient battles that the artist was immersed in at the time, as he studied Homer’s Iliad and Robert Graves’ newly published book at the time, The Greek Myths.
Nolan’s time in Greece was one of the most influential periods of his life. According to Colin MacInnes, author of the 1961 monograph on Nolan, Greece was Nolan’s ‘true European hearth’. Besides the paintings made in Greece that are offered in this auction, it was the genesis of two significant series, Gallipoli and Leda and the Swan.
In Hydra he combined his inspirations of travel, literature, and poetry, creating a frieze-like sequence of works painted in terracotta oil depicting Trojan War warriors in combat. As time passed, Nolan added motifs from Theseus and the Minotaur, Icarus, ancient theatre masks, and portraits of helmeted Homeric heroes, and even images of contemporary Greek island life with an Orthodox priest in sunglasses, prickly pears and goats, cliff-top villages, and boats in the harbour.
From Hydra the artist visited Mykonos, Delos, Santorini, Crete, and the Peloponnese. MacInnes wrote, that in Greece ‘Nolan had found a familiar country, rich in myths, which pictorially, he tried to understand in order to create myths for his own people. The feeling of these Greek pictures is pre-classical, but the forms are those that he, like all European artists, has inherited from Classical Greece: it is the mood of the one civilisation, expressed in the forms of the other.’
The works on offer all remained with Nolan in his personal collection until recent exhibitions with the Hellenic Museum in Melbourne and Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Victoria.
The Bonhams auction will take place on 29 November 2022.